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Eternal Glimpses - A Poet's Legacy

Eternal Glimpses - A Poet's Legacy

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Eternal Glimpses - A Poet's Legacy

520 pagine
8 ore
Feb 12, 2015


An autobiographical collaboration of subsequent journal entries of a poet delves behind the scenes of solitary tedium and introspection when a spark catches between the heart and brain and transforms into a pulsing literary song on the printed page. Based in Brooklyn, New York in the twentieth century, the written word comes alive through a city dweller that gives his life for his art in the all-too-often darkness of poverty and the clash with social expectations. While a friendly narrative of a life story threads into a likeable character, the poetic expressions, observations, and essays surpass politics, social issues of the day, and religion and exposes the richness of beauty and the limitations of being human. Melancholic in tone, the writing dares to challenge the astute reader to explore the deeper and unspoken aspects of the human condition.
Feb 12, 2015

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Eternal Glimpses - A Poet's Legacy - Richard Davi

Eternal Glimpses - A Poet's Legacy

Eternal Glimpses -

A Poet's Legacy


Richard Davi/Lorna M. Davi

Copyright © 2012, Lorna M. Davi

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of both publisher and author. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

ISBN: 978-1-312-62935-6

It is the sense of time and space...

It is the sense of time and space, of history that wakes us to the precious aura surrounding the living immediate moment.  Each day of our life is immersed in nostalgia’s aspect.  We’d be awed could we warp time and for a moment witness the birth of the Earth, the first life emerging, crouch with the caveman as he dumbly watches the rain fall, sit beside Plato in contemplation of the light and shadow play before us, run with the marauding band of Caesar’s legions, be amongst the mesmerized followers of the profound love and teachings of Jesus, see the flower in Buddha’s hand, Shakespeare at dinner, the furniture in John Keats’ study, the very same sunset that inspired Whitman on the beach, roam with our great-grandfather through the woods and through the rooms of his house, hear the words he spoke on a snowy afternoon at the window – to be there, then, how precious a thing, how vital that hour.  Time gives a past event a delicate beauty, a sanctity, a silent, intense meaning inexpressible; yet all the aura and beauty is here now in our sense of time and space, in each passing event, each experience of the conscious life – and because we are genetically unable to remain upon this ethereal plane, some of us are compelled to hold and express this truth in the expressions we call art.

--Richard Davi

I've had my moments of peace...

I’ve had my moments of peace within the years of turmoil; on robe-warm winter days looking out in inspired silence from my window, I’ve walked on the joyous green of grass, felt eternity in the faces of the dead.  And as vultures hover over me, I ask, What is eternity? – a sense of duration, a tree in perpetual wind, a devouring of earth worms?

A tree in perpetual wind suddenly sounded high above in the branches, the whole tree swaying, the pages flipping in rapid succession - one abrupt blank page after the next in a fury of white in the remaining light of what was a calm, warm dusk as though answering the final question or even extending the eternal possibilities.  They were to be the pondering last recorded words of a poet who lived and virtually died for the sake of creativity; its process and completion of each sensation imprinted in time.

What was at first the sorting of journal notes, musical verbal scribbling, and introspective essays, came to light as an audible voice beyond the self-publication of collected poems, A Gathering of Quiet Hours.  The writer’s presence and existence itself with all of the minutest of life; abundant, active, and in full bloom in the summer months, heightened to an intuitive awareness upon reading the semi-organized notebooks intended for publication.  They speak to the higher consciousness of our selves while intricate and contemplative prose weaves in and out of a life’s journey.  They go behind the scenes of poetry and peek into the origins of a poem, the depths of the soul, and the heart of a poet while complementing a book of poetry in the making over a lifetime.  They are my father’s words, subjective in content but richly fluid in spirit.


This is less an autobiography and more a distillation, at my seventy-second year, of nearly six decades of sporadic journal entries, telling for the most part, of an interior life; a life without the movement and gilt of adventure that might have affected history’s progression one iota.

Writing now from the view of my last season, I am re-visiting memories and ghosts which but for those journal notes so much would have been utterly forgotten, my brain being rather weak in its retentive circuits.  Those jottings have preserved many portions and incidents of my life for me to savor and anguish over as it all nears its end and will be a simple accounting of an unremarkable prosaic life on its metaphysical path; with all those wants untold that every individual knows, that battleground that we all tread alone, bearing the scars no others see, just as are borne, invisibly too, those cryptic aesthetic victories.  For do we not always wonder: whither go our epiphanies of joy and beauty amid this fundamental hopeless finality of the human condition – whither this mad dichotomy after we have died?

So let us not attach the onus of egoism to those who task themselves, pen in hand, to throw something of their sojourn here into the face of mortality, to leave something more behind than offspring and a headstone.  This communication, this testimony, must be, at least, a reaffirmation of our common humanity.

Henry Thoreau said, The most interesting is not the book of him who has traveled the farthest, but of him who has lived deepest and been the most at home.

These pages, then, focus on a foreground figure that passed across the background of Brooklyn, New York, circa twentieth century; a passerby whose final purpose, justification, and ultimate fate he is totally ignorant of beyond the obvious one of eternal oblivion.


After the first two or three years lost in the unremembered impenetrable mist of memory, shapes begin to emerge on that gray plain behind the eyes.  I watch the snow falling and whitening the track-bed, melting the cold rail as I stand on an elevated subway platform, my little hand raised to mother’s gloved hand; staring, I am vaguely aware that snow on railroad tracks is somehow incongruous.

In hot sun-filled air I smell the salt and oil of a pier at Brooklyn’s edge, see the silt clinging to the wooden post sticking up out of the greasy water, a coal yard nearby, its black mass a high hill.

My fingers trace the curves of a chair’s armrest.  Down a narrow unfamiliar street of high-stooped dwellings there are empty lots here and there filled with the common tier’s debris, rotting wood beams, tin cans everywhere, garbage banked against splintered fences, a joyous meadow of green with sun-drenched trees over blue and red flower beds.

Now desolation under stone-gray clouds and biting wind, snow again, falling over the streets; high-ceiling rooms in the huddled homes, a street in the silence of midnight, a street, then, in colorless daybreak - so quiet I can hear the white flakes falling, can almost in tranquil confusion, take up in my hands and peer into an overwhelming riddle.

These wispy images still flicker before my closed eyes as I enter my seventy-second year.

What are the material bumpings of our lifetime but touchstones to a receptive spiritual system at work within; only hints leading to some immaterial other?  But it seems nature wants some of the brood to strain toward a reconciliation between the objective and the mystic from and into which everything flows, while in others, no such conflict arises.  So the influx of the world’s impressions to my senses marked my earliest consciousness with a subtle distress, those flashing images colored by concerned wonderment and the inevitable interruptions to wonderment.  I recall less the body than my heart-mind pulsing in stormy silences against the immensities and vicissitudes that bombarded the child newly come and unprepared; recall less those innocent selfish pleasures, than an awkward searching, looking about intensely, as one in a predicament.

Transposing time and my mother, Frances, as a child, as if myself were watching from a distance for her to leave her door for school, in blue dress, hair in bows, flushed cheeks, horse-drawn carriages lumbering by – or maybe herself at age 15, already a trace of silver in her hair, returning from Manhattan where she worked as a seamstress, talking quickly with her girlfriend about that young man who’d followed them into the city again; and be watching still, here on Degraw street.  She’d hear the steps of the enamored boy, peeked behind her window when he passed, whistling, and seeing her glowing smile as she slammed her window down.  She never told us, if she knew, what became of him.  Could this have been the same man in the 1908 portrait, violin in hand, of Emmanuel Davi that watched over his children and grandchildren in still life for decades after?  Mother never did confirm.

In 1904, the first runs of the subway system had begun.  It was a clankety eight- miles-or-so-train-ride from Cobble Hill South to Coney Island beaches and amusement park in its heyday.  The rollercoaster, called The Cyclone, opened in 1927 and is in operation still, 82 years later.

Living at 505 Henry Street, Frances just turned 20 in the fall of 1916.  In the neighborhood at 37 Cheever Place, lived Signor and Signora Davi, Tommasso with his thick mustache and his wife, Carmella (formally Bonnetti).  Two 1903 photos of Carmella, at age 42, attest to her robust beauty and regal presence.  The youngest of their three surviving of four children was Emmanuel, age 26, to whom Frances was now engaged.  On Christmas Eve, 1916, in the church of the Sacred Hearts on Hicks street, they were married.

Mother and Papa attended the Brooklyn Academy of Music when opera legend and greatest tenor of the day, Enrico Caruso, sang.  Radios began to appear in store windows at this time, allowing music and news into homes.

With the looming threat of and then involvement in World War I and trade routes disrupted, the massive arrival of immigrants at the turn of the century was beginning to slacken.  After the war, new laws went into effect limiting the newcomers.  The Great Depression as well, a decade later, ended the need for new and needed labor.

At about three years of age, hearing the adults speaking, making sounds I didn’t understand, I asked, Mama, what did you say?

A little hesitant in surprise, she answered, "Oh, ‘pecciota’? That means ‘little child’ in Italian."

What’s Italian?

A longer hesitation, then, Well, it means being born in Italy and talking in that language – Italian language.

I thought for a moment, and then said, Ma – you’re Italian!

I was to learn, a bit at a time in those early years, some of my background configurations, antecedent to, and conspiring toward, my birth.  Both parents were born in Palermo, Sicily; mother in a little town called Carini.  Both were brought to America when still young children, thus retaining their native tongue but just in time to avoid any trace of an Italian accent.  Instead, the Brooklynese took easy hold of their speech even as they interspersed it with the Italian words when it was convenient.  Thus, Mama’s choice became cherse whose eggs were aigs, and oil was erl, unless, according to the situation, the Italian equivalent was better called for; such as a preventive of taboo subjects for children’s ears or in expressions of higher emotions.

What forever remained in mother’s memories of the old country was a luxurious manor house and servants bustling about; of riding in the family horse-powered coach, of her mother’s receiving the sartorial fashions direct from Paris – for my grandfather, Salvatore Cuccio, was a prosperous importer/exporter of foodstuffs.  He married Prudence LaCorte and moved to Carini where my mother was born September 14, 1896.  Then, alas, through some imprudent dealings with unsavory relatives, Salvatore lost his possessions.  Reduced to uncertainty, he immigrated with his family to America in 1901 to making his living as a laborer at New York’s docks.

I was told he returned several times to Sicily briefly, but New York’s Brooklyn was home, where, they tell me, Mr. Cuccio liked to hunt in the fields and woods which at that time was part of Brooklyn’s landscape.  As I was born too late to see any of my grandparents, the only image I have of Salvatore Cuccio is a photograph of a white-haired sober-looking man with one eye permanently closed – this due to somebody’s ill-advised recommendation to cure an eye infection by applying and let harden the contents of an egg.  This only hardened the eye shut beyond repair.

As I was told, without detail and hazy as to the circumstances, the Cuccios and Davis were aboard the same vessel that took them to America, met on the ocean, and my mother and father were shyly eyeing each other as young children.  Another similar telling of the meeting of the families was Mr. Cuccio, alone on one of his business trips from Sicily to America, made the acquaintance of the Davis, Emmanuel at age nine crossing the Atlantic with his parents, brother, and two sisters.

The families were reacquainted when my parents were in their early teens.  Both families settled in rented apartments in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn.  There when mother was 15 years old, she suffered the shock of her mother’s (Prudence) sudden death, at age 46, of heart failure; the consensus being due to her excessive weight.

Mother as a teenager!  There were virtually no photos taken in my family all through the early twentieth century.  I was left only to imagine the appearance of my clan in their childhood and youth.

Mom’s older sister, Jenny, had already married Emmanuel’s brother, Joseph, making their three surviving daughters, our double cousins.  The two families were never to live more than a few blocks from each other and interacted closely for many years.  The only two to never speak again were Mom’s brother Joe and sister Jenny.  Joe resented his sister Jenny marrying Papa’s brother, Joseph Davi.

He’ll never support you – he’s an alcoholic! Joe accused.

Then I’ll support him, was Jenny’s reply – for which he slapped her and the two siblings never spoke again.

Papa helped his brother Joseph out of financial scrapes over the years until he died in 1933, in his early 30s, from excessive drinking and the illnesses it caused.

I was the last born to these families.   Like Jesus, my coming was prophesized but by an alleged psychic; a neighbor with piercing blue eyes, who insisted over mother’s protestations, that there would be a tenth child, the last, a boy, then no more.  And it was so.

Stirred to life in early fall, I was born on the sunny Tuesday afternoon of June 4, 1935, dark and large.  (The doctor speculated on twins).  Awaiting me from Coney Island Hospital were father, six sisters and three brothers in a third-floor apartment at 46 Bay 14th Street, just around the corner from 86th Street’s busy shops.

By my first year, we had rented an apartment one block away on 17th Avenue, at Number 8625 that adjoined Aunt Jenny’s identical house.  These homes of the two Davi families were cozy three-story structures with black wrought-iron gates out front enclosing a wood bench, a small paved yard with a circle of earth that we children ran and played around.  The stone steps led into shadowed hallways, insular, and comforting with a scent of potted plants and lemon polish.

The bustling interactions of so many in my household would free my early years from the stricter discipline I would have received amongst smaller numbers.  I was rather pampered and don’t doubt that so much activity around me contributed in allowing my little head’s thoughts to evolve on their own and a meditative disposition to take hold.  Such an environment may also have sprung a life-long craving for quiet and seclusion.  Possibly and simply, it was congenital shyness that turned me to seek inward out of loneliness and so early on hating interference from outward influences.  Or again, and hardly my intention, when jumping up and down in my baby carriage indoors at one or two years of age, tumbled out and hit the crown of my head on the radiator hard enough to retain a little scar for the rest of my life; might not a certain cell or module in my brain been nudged in that impact which ever after sensitized a sense of atmosphere, light-beams, and dusky shadows?  Was this the bump that put an unremitting longing in the secret heart of this city dweller for the vast landscape of silence, green hills and running brooks, for mossy old trees and the sweet solitude of castles and graveyards to fulfill and attempt to subdue that restless brooding introspection?  Could this have opened the intuition that everything is both right and wrong, simultaneously compelling one to silence?

In our household, then, were 12 souls touching.  My eldest sibling, Millie, age 18, had chosen my name, as she had Sylvia’s a year and a half earlier and to whom I was naturally closest all through our young years.  Millie, with her appealing features and lovely smile, was the most outgoing of us all.  She suffered a nervous collapse after an unhappy romance, and then married another a few years later.

After her came Tom, who in my whole recollection of a lifetime, was called Moose by the family, with the exception of our parents – Mother throughout the years occasionally asking, but why ‘Moose’ - I don’t understand.  But Moose was our official name, the permanent one after frequent sidetracks to Bozo and Mott and the like.  I guess these fond appellations stemmed from his lumbering, retiring way, and that enviable unhurriedness.  Moose, then, as he shall then be always called, never married; though one unfulfilled romance underscored his life.

Prudy also remained unmarried.  She was amusing, unpredictable, with volatile nerves bordering on danger until she had her one child.

Sal and Joey came next, the one too guileless for this manipulating world, the other a tragedy of unaccountable angry withdrawing beginning in his early teens.  Both boys parted from us to live out their lives away - one without family, the other without anything.

With Margaret (as with Prudy and Millie), I shared the least for no particular reason as I came to favor much more my associations with Jeanne whom preceded Margaret in order of age.  Jeanne, I’ve heard described, as the prettiest of her sisters.  I was privy to her early romances, made courier or chaperon, and later a consistent visitor throughout her marriage, and beyond.  With Moose, and including Jeanne’s husband, we would be the closest and most constant group.

The eighth progeny was Gloria, the only blue-eyed blonde in a family of brown-eyed brunettes and to whom I’d only grow closer to and fond of in later years.  Sibling rivalry spoiled our first decades.  Between Gloria and me came Sylvia, 18 months my senior, and my companion and confidant of childhood and teen years.

Soon after my birth, I was baptized on June 23, 1935 with my godparents being Felix and Rena Gillis, friends and neighbors of my parents.

Before I knew him, Papa worked at various jobs besides trolley car conductor.  He was also an ice cream maker, and during the Depression, resorted to giving violin lessons despite his own limited skill on the instrument that was later abandoned altogether because of family and other occupations.

In the middle decades, he earned his living as a motion picture projectionist, running old films in theaters. Early on in this occupation, (so I learned) a co-worker had urged father to join him in relocating to Hollywood, where the motion picture trade offered more possibilities.  Father declined.  Years later Sol (originally Sal) Polito, cinematographer and Papa’s former co-worker, was seen among the credits of many a motion picture.  The random vicissitudes of life become so apparent whenever I consider the entirely different circumstances that would have made up all our lives had Father made that single decision to join his friend.

Self-consciousness is man.  And myself, in family characteristic, was conscious of our self-consciousness, was unpresumptuous and unpretentious.  If daring imagination did not urge us on, if self-confidence was greatly lacking, in the stead was a native intelligence, sensitivity, and gentleness that creates conflict and crises amid the grossness and harshness of reality.  How much of worldliness, ambition, and even charm are veneer and bluff, masking ignorance, fear, and doubt?  There was in all of us (with the exception of mother) and as if in resentment of our reticence, a rather clearly defined strain of nervousness, a disquiet that ebbed and flared in all degrees among us – from lethargy and simple-mindedness to violent breakdowns.  For Joey there was almost total deterioration of mind.  Sylvia, with her practical nature, was the least defined of these afflictions.  She was not like us in her freedom from inward wanderings.  She was the calmest and most patient one in the house.  A worker and a doer, she was the influence of benevolence and comfort.  The one trait in common with us was undemonstrative-ness.  Her love showed more through genuine acceptance, duty, and sacrifice than through words.  But whatever the degree of this family trait, its direction was not outward toward others, but inward dwelling.  For father, it was a flaring temper, a little above the common outbursts, at the frustrations of living but who otherwise was reserved with stamps of melancholy upon him.

All this is but a mood-picture that an indifferently observing neighbor might have drawn of us.  The complexity of humans refutes and contradicts any critical evaluations.  Like gold, beauty and truth must be dug for and filtered out.

Father had grown lean and a little stooped in later years.  Despite the loss of hair and teeth, the brooding good looks of his youth could always be discerned.  I don’t know if he was haunted at all - by some memory or simply by existence, but such a look was always in his eyes.  When he smiled it was as if with reluctance.  This description is more or less of me as well.

Mother exuded health, all of five feet and two inches of her.  Her appearance was always as sunny and robust as her nature.  White-haired already in her 20s, her eyebrows remained black and concentrated sharply, making her brown eyes seem darker.  She maintained smooth youthful skin into old age.  Even the extra pounds she could never shed spoke only of her firm strength.

Nothing extraordinary was ever to occur (except of course to this self – what quotes, moments of drama, of pain, pleasure, and wonderment could there be in all the world)!  There would be no wild adventure, no travels, no acquaintance with the famous or infamous, no work to influence the advancement of the world, no orphaned waif or orphanage in which to survive, no debilitating illness to color or discolor my life, no bombs from the sky or enemy occupation on my street.  All domestic provisions were at hand and therefore unnoticed.  Father provided in an age when a man’s salary sufficed, though at cost of his nearly constant absence from home while Mother administered with unceasing and devoted labor.  Yet is the prevailing irony of life - alone in the appreciation that goes by and large unacknowledged or too feeble when shown of our good fortune and whence it emanates from the love of our benefactors – unnoticed at least until its almost too late.

When I was three, father bought his last house back on Bay 14th Street but at #120 where we’d remain for the next 14 years.  Most people have but one real home throughout life - this was mine; the hearth, the ground on which my earliest and sensitive memories were made.  Here I grew, was sustained in burdenless comforts; life a perusal of the sights, colors, emotions and scenes which, once removed, embody forever the sweet dream of hope and bitter solace for the heart’s memory of flown youth with its true ignorance of final endings.

It was late autumn and our first day of occupancy that marked my earliest memory, my coming to conscious existence, as it were, walking through a dark cellar with my parents and one or two others, and passing through the backyard door up concrete steps into the sudden glare of sunlight on the unkempt garden and still-leafy trees.  This emerging from the dark into sunlight was, as my earliest memory of all, like leaving the womb and entering the bright world.  Without stopping but assessing all, we turned to climb the rickety wooden steps that led to the first floor.  A few hazy moments; a vignette for a lifetime.

I spent an unusual amount of time within those walls, (the reclusive strain always a part of me), and came to know virtually every configuration and bump of that house - the grain of its wood, the quality of its shadows and light, the scent coming off the bay so near to our house, and the sporadic foghorn in the background against the many elusive and attainable of my thoughts and sensations.

Bensonhurst, our Brooklyn neighborhood, consisted largely of Italian families, many still of émigré status.  Mr. and Mrs. Forti occupied the house on our left.  All I remember of them is his resemblance to a frog and their devotion to a tomato-growing backyard.  Do you still nourish the sod somewhere in eternity, Signora Frog??

The Ferraras had a stable adjoining their home, with horses and carts, and was perhaps the last of its kind in this city - its last rural touch.  The children picked the green grapes that hung about the stable enclosure whose delicious bitterness is chilling my jaw at this recollection.  One day the teenage daughter of the family, Concetta, heavy-set and very homely, was standing in our kitchen on some errand or other.  As she was about to sit down, I deftly pulled the chair away from behind her and she fell on her ass.  Mama’s consternation to my act surprised me but I was delighted anyway.  I’m sorry, Miss Ferrara – but I was only five or six years old and compelled to such experiments.

Also to our left down the block lived the Cuccioli family; Dorothy of the oval eyes, as Papa dubbed her, became Sylvia’s friend and when we were eight years old or so, my first ridiculous lust interest at that ‘C&F’ stage – ‘Curiosity & Fumble’.

On our immediate right lived the Cucciadis (not to be confused with the Cucciolis on our left a few houses down).  They were a quiet, pleasant family.  He with asthma, and she with an apron, round face, and black hair pulled flat into an imposing bun.  Between household labors for her family of two sons and a daughter, she was fond of resting her elbows upon the iron fence of her stoop, quietly contemplating the street.  We soon came to refer to her as Elbows.  At the end of casual talk she would frequently state an Italian quote that loosely translated to what has to be has to be.

Further down lived the moneylender of the neighborhood, called Abina, a tall, hard-bodied, very red-faced woman.  I grew to hate her for profiting off Mama’s occasional small loans.

I made two friends on the block.  One was Jimmy Fillapozzo, who, whenever he came calling for me, had Prudy pointing and laughing at us because we looked so much alike.  The other, Vinny La Versa, I grew closer to.  One evening, standing outside the stable, he offered me a cigarette, instructing me of its use.  We were four years old and I’m smoking still, over half a century later.  I was soon instructing Jeanne and Margaret in the, then, glamorous use of this poison.  Vinny and I shared games, marbles and some secrets.  I liked him and his swarthy good looks.  His family moved out of state a few years later.  A year or two passed when I learned his family had just returned to Brooklyn for a brief visit.  When Vinny came to call for me, we were awkward and reticent.  We went into the schoolyard for a handball game.  It began to rain.  We said nothing and continued our game.  Gradually the rain turned to a stormy deluge and without a word between us, we played on, drenched and dripping, solemn, enthralled and panting in silence.  I didn’t know why.  I never saw him again after that day.

These were the last days of sooty men delivering barrels of coal for the furnace and the ice man with his tongs swinging that cold block into the cupboard; the near-end of the clanging, sparking trolley cars tracking the main streets, five cents a fare; of street vendors, many still on horse-drawn carts loaded with fish or vegetables or baked goods; the sweet potato vendor whose smoldering silver roaster offered up that aroma and taste the likes of which only memory retains to wake a fierce nostalgia ever after.

It was about this period, or a little later, that I had one of those dreams we carry with us ever after, flashing behind our eyes sometimes in moments of reverie – so moved were we by its intensity:  It is just after sunset.  I am a child walking with a tall man in the side avenues of a city of towering edifices, some with enormous and lofty styles.  All is hushed, though others walk about also, and the streets are immaculately clean.  The man beside me is my father.  He holds me by the hand as we walk looking silently about at the scene that is bathed in a silver light that alternates with night’s dark recesses; lights emanating somehow from below rather than any above source – an eerie but peace-provoking glow elongating the building that disappeared in a black sky above us.  We stop before the enormous steps of a marble edifice.  The feeling I have is of wonder, awe, and a peace that is shot through with great expectation.  It was the sort of dream that probably will recur in my last hour.

All Things Awake True

All things awake true

under the sun

where senses sensate alone:

mornings would be glories, all,

afternoons a prelude’s slow weave

to the moon,

every transpiration over the earth

disseminating from its fruited bowers

living’s boon.

But thought, thought with its links,

besets the mysterious child,

and this deep ocean’s progeny,

good beast of the air,

free dream of a god,

all ground of spirit and flesh,

is not free.

And so the soul---what does it know

in its gross house of clay,

in a mind bereft of its ease?

No sage, no voice can say,

and all our days---go.

And so death then, yes,

awakes true,

true morning at last

of eternity’s guess.

Of the endless swarms of things that pass before child eyes, how few must ever emerge again into the light of memory………the yellow and orange summer light leaf-flecked on the red-painted stoop, a horse fallen dead in the street under the hot sun, children dashing on noisy skates, an empty lot full of debris and shadows, stillness all around; days of leaf-full trees, sun and wind shimmering everything outdoors and filtering patterns of green light from the maple tree out front from the windows of our living room; autumn and its ashes, curbside fires roasting potatoes, and hot food on the big crowded table and wails of sorrow at a death the young can’t feel, watching clouds take the shape of some familiar object on windy days, young girls in new frocks bustling about, animating the house; dense sensate hours when nobody could be old and mortality was unknown; days that know nothing but absorption and return with little more than such dancing patterns around familiar niches, faces, and voices.

Among the lost pleasures of my youth (if not for most), are those of the table.  The food that reached it then was still untampered, unthawed out of some frozen warehouse tomb, uninjected with preserving agents, unstripped of calories, natural sugars and taste.  The cream still rose to the top of the milk bottle then, and when Mother emptied a bag of cherries or corncobs, the aroma of sun-filled fields and dewy moonlight filled the room.  This location, with the table as its central point, was the all-purpose room for meals, talks, holidays, and even parties.

Seated at that table one day, I was spooning the fine-ground coffee from a bag into a wide-mouthed tin, maneuvering and shifting the grains; engrossed with the pleasurable imaginings of crumbling mountains or wind-swept drifts of desert sand or rushing avalanches.  Then, some authoritative voice broke my reverie informing me how the flavor of the coffee would be lost if I continued exposing and shifting it.  I was confounded, my equilibrium askew all in an instant.  I pondered the dilemma; that a pleasure had to be denied – and denied for a valid reason!  The unequivocal position of inseparable opposites, this clash of right and wrong that left all questions moot would become fundamental to my conscious and subconscious life.

Papa, when he had a Sunday home, would call us down from our beds when he’d blend his special eggnog with its delicious touch of black coffee and whiskey, a morning bracer that he urged on us as a tonic.  It was in such actions only that he was able to show his love, quietly and unsmiling; and thus, in the background, as it were, did he provide all the comforts for his brood.  There were arguments enough over money, as inevitably there is in the endless budgeting of the working class, yet, in retrospect, his unceasing efforts and Mama’s unceasing care gave us all a security that shamefully but naturally we took, then, so much for granted.  Now in ink and silence I send them, again, my love and gratitude.

Sitting dreamily alone on the late afternoon stoop, the sounds of Mother’s pots from the basement kitchen reached me and set my reflection on her.  If I was five, I wondered, how old then was she??  I became urgently curious, hurrying inside to ask her.

44, she said smiling down at me.

I returned to the stoop to mull this over and suddenly realized, with a tug at the heart, that she was not young, not ageless, that she would grow old far ahead of me and would die one day.  Again my heart quickened; for the first time, I became conscious of my love for her.  I had crossed a threshold.  I was civilized.  I am solemn.

There’s a black level in our brains, like a theatre stage but without dimensions on which all our memories sleep.  We recall a thing as though a spotlight opened on it for a fleeting moment or a split second and we glimpse a scene of yesterday without eyes, hear in zero sound the voice we knew, the word re-uttered; a million tableaus remain on that magic stage – some clear in the light, some barley discernable, and others that have died no illumination ever reaches.

So many of these earliest vignettes occurred within the house in which I grew up, in which I spent an unusually large segment of childhood in that pattern of domestic enclosure.  The good, my haven, was that house with all its traffic and its comforts despite the waves of nervousness in the atmosphere of the personalities of its occupants; a disquiet of spirit – unless it was my own, that would remain with me unaltered, even after I learned of life as an imperfect dream in which any happiness is the most intangible of experiences, known more in its recollection than in its presence.

Our house, like most on such city blocks, was attached on both sides, creating essentially a ‘railroad’ layout of rooms.  Our basement, however, reached from steps under the front stoop, indoors, from old, squeaky, wooden steps at the end of the main entrance hall and consisted of our kitchen in a large finished basement room.  It had a low tin ceiling painted white, the big center table of thick dark wood always covered in cloth with gay colored symmetrical patterns, and probably the busiest area of the house.  Behind the basement kitchen was a dark ‘back room’ with walls of chalky unfinished stones where we stored old trunks and such, and where the furnace lurked in the far corner, the coal bin beside it.  From the street entrance to this house, a five-step-square stoop led to the small vestibule and the first floor of five rooms, and to a second floor that was rented out.   A long dark hall, curving slightly, ran from the entrance to the back.  The floors squeaked here and there and the radiators clanged and hissed in the winter – sounds to ever trigger a flow of memories.

The parlor would become my favorite room, facing the street and the great maple tree directly in front with its black, deeply wrinkled bark that shadow-laced the home front in winter and hung like a green canopy in summer’s leafy season.  I spent many hours before those three alcove-placed bay windows, in vigils for snow, and later for love.  To my delight, an 18-inch snowfall blanketed our street late that winter of March 1941.  Sylvia and I played in the backyard in the snow.  I can’t even recall the circumstances, but I hit her in the face with snow and yet for all our quarrels, I loved the companion of my youth – a bond I believe Mama noted in quiet observation.  Many an evening, over homework or games, Sylvia and I sprawled on the soft rug and listened to radio comedies, music, and mysteries.

The older siblings, Millie, Prudy, and Moose lit up that room with the gathering of friends.  The lovely Scardari sisters, Theodora and Grace, were the only two I recall of those visitors as we remained, through Millie and Grace’s close friendship, in contact with always.  Moose, by this time, had fallen in love with the beautiful raven-haired Grace, and therein hangs a tale.  She was a piano student, (and later teacher), who at gatherings played on our upright in the parlor.  And they waltzed to recordings of Strauss, as Sylvia and I watched the brightly lit room from the dark end of the house.  Moose, or rather Thomas, as the respectful Grace referred to him, was in love and in love for good and all- for there was never to be another contender for his court.  But his suit met no response and even before he might have worn her resistance down, the news came that she was to be married, in more or less an arrangement made by her mother, to a man offering her daughter more security.  Apparently, the religious, obedient and innocent young lady made no resistance and thus brought permanent grief into Moose’s life.  He poured out his feelings to her in a letter that, as far as I know, went unanswered.  And so the years would pass for him over a stratum of rage, bitterness and a never-ending hope until, after 50 years, hope disappeared completely with her death.  During her marriage, he saw her intermittently on her visits to Millie, and at family wakes, and sometimes daring to telephone as an old friend might do.  Several times the commission or gift of one of Moose’s paintings brought them together.  One of those paintings was a perfect copy of the French artist Pierre-Auguste Cot’s gorgeously romantic Lover depicting the youthful pair on a swing in a shadowy forest.  When the good provider died after some 25 years, Moose pressed further but was only allowed to maintain an innocent friendship with infrequent visits to her home, a shared interest in religion and telephone talk.  These contacts gradually increased but Grace, demurring to the end, had retained not only her beauty but also her fidelity to a husband’s memory despite a life-long suitor’s importuning.

While these events in my poor cursory description must seem a not uncommon plaint in the history of the heart, there is a case here for the pages of human devotion, for some awakening in the soul, an inherent, ready epic.

One bright day, about this time, Millie decided to take me along for company on a shopping excursion.  Nobody had warned me that my big sister was notoriously slow at such practices, so much so that I retain still the stressing memory of the long wait as she browsed and roamed through the stores.  With the hours passing, I grew restless, then frantic, finally sullen in a hopeless despair of ever seeing my home again.  I may have lost most of my capacity for patience that day, when, reaching home as evening shadows fell, I silently cursed and vowed, never again, never again.

Heaven only knows what stress Millie put on the poor store clerks as preparations for her wedding began – for the reception was to be held at home.  The house cleaning, the ordering and fitting of a flower-garden swirl of gowns, the guest list, the catering, the musicians, accommodations, floral arrangements, and schedule changes all put the house in a great breeze of excitement.  The mystical day was the 14th of September, which was also Mother’s 45th birthday.  A small platform was constructed and placed before the parlor windows on which the bride and groom would stand.  A handsome, happy couple they were on this noisy happy day.  As for my new brother-in-law, he was and forever remained with us, handsomely smiling, taciturn, private, and distant.  How it was that his three lovely sisters, swirling about in their pastel gowns, evoked a restless ache, and riveting glances in a six-year-old boy, I didn’t know.  Millie lived a short while in Maryland after the wedding.  The family joined them for a day or two.  It nearly appeared to be a honeymoon as the newlyweds returned to Brooklyn after a short while.

Benson Avenue; my favorite half-mile walk from our house on a wide street cut off like a terminus to the world by the sprawl of Dyker Park.  I took as many speed-rides on my bicycle as I did solitary walks with birds singing on this route.  My world has almost exclusively transpired with the radius of a few miles of Brooklyn.  Dyker Park at the west end of Benson Avenue was introduced to me when Millie first took me as a child and later, encouraged by Moose, to chaperone Jeanne and Margaret there when they started dating.  Flying on the swings in the dark evenings, exhilarated, I hummed in my head Schubert’s Serenade.  That connected in my imagination with some unknown romance – thrilling and enrapturing.

Then, on the late afternoon of December 7th, I hurriedly put on my skates and dashed out to join a few friends in the schoolyard, blurting out the news, they shot Burl Harbor but he didn’t die! unaware I was for a time of the devastation until the eyes of the adults told a different story.

The other little park down 17th Avenue, with its wide-stepped bridge over the highway to the esplanade upon the sea wall of Gravesend Bay, pointed to what appeared to be the Atlantic’s end.  The corner grocer, with its succulent aroma of bread and meats, was managed by Frank Maniglia, a handsome man with a white apron behind the counter who was always patient, smiling, and

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