NOTE: Some of my readers, few as they are, complain that my introductions are too long. Others complain that my introductions are more interesting than my poems. This introduction will be shorter, which might prove you can please everyone--sometimes. "Boy Under Ground" appeared in my chapbook Exactly Like Love, published by Osedax Press. My full-length collection, The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems is published by Truth Serum Press.
Boy Under Ground
It’s crazy one flight up: my mother and my father
raging about something I have or haven’t done.
I’m poised on the edge of the bottom step,
better to watch the old Pilot
in its battered mahogany cabinet,
the small tube with greenish cast,
so slow to warm, the tuner
which could only be changed with pliers:
Channel 11, if I hold it just right,
has Victory at Sea again.
Then another depth charge from above
and the picture flies into a tailspin—
and the little boats scramble from Dunkirk to Dover
as Alexander Scourby’s voice gets more and more portentous
about the horrors of, if only.
If only my father would be less cutting;
if only my mother would get less shrill,
so I make the TV louder still.
The war above begins to rage in earnest,
including a lifetime’s hurts narrated by my father,
and then the death blow, how one mistake, marriage
to a man she didn’t love, could ruin one’s life.
Imagine if the Wehrmacht had finished off the Brits, Scourby intones,
Hitler would have come for us next,
but I can no longer hear for the sirens and tumult
so I plunge deeper into the jetsam of our lives:
my mother’s mangle and the clothes she’s been meaning to press;
my father’s girly magazines, discovered to my horror and delight
hidden behind boxes of buttons.
And then further, into the secret room in back
where I figured we could always hide,
past the spare cupboard with a year’s worth
of canned goods bought on sale,
past the closet that smells of camphor,
past the washer/dryer, old, unhinged
and ready to take off like an ungainly rocket,
past the boiler rumbling like a tank,
and then to my shelves in back
where no one ever dared come,
where lay the remains of my science set,
chemicals desiccated, but still ready to blow,
Lionel trains and plastic houses waiting for the next blitz.
This is where I brought my mother’s music box to rest,
the one that once played Let Me Call You Sweetheart,
a gift that had sat atop her dresser.
She thought the cleaning girl stole it
but I liked to listen alone
and it still knew the tune
if I could nudge the cylinder with my thumb
and get the comb to plunk the teeth that were left.
But I had overwound it:
broken forever; it could never be fixed.
I was just a kid and didn’t know.
But wouldn’t this turn out to be
exactly like love?
© 2019 Alan Walowitz
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