I emptied the poor box and fed the nickels and dimes to a meter, a gumball dispenser, a slot,
I brought the leaded glass to an antique shop on South, and the pews became bonfires and block parties
with chicken dinners from the kosher butchers on the other side of Broad, everything set on the altar for the vets
who spend Sunday morning detoxing, chain smoking on somebody’s front step, getting chased off,
damning their sons sonofabitching their daughters so stupefied by compulsory education compulsory religion compulsory marriage,
and missing their grandmothers, who were still taking the trolley to the garment factory every morning, age 67, on partial SSI,
coming home to her own row house, working miracle Campbell Soup dinners for two, getting weekend meats from Nunzio the Chicken Man on Point Breeze,
cursing whatever God kills a husband and leaves a woman a widow at 30 with six children a mortgage and no insurance,
married to a 32nd degree Mason who translated for Pershing, the only insurance salesman in history to die uninsured,
leaving me alone so I could read Les mariés de la tour Eiffel stolen from Temple’s library in that back room with a window and a record player and a French dictionary,
or walk up to the University Museum, four miles each way, and to walk back happy,
letting me have my privacy, letting me work late into sometimes summer mornings,
or sleep late on Saturdays and Sundays with no bother about obligations,
or sleep even later that morning in June after the assassination in the hotel kitchen after the California primary
leaving me to mourn alone under the railroad bridge 25th and Washington, leaving me just a note,
Coffee on the range just turn on the gas love you Gran.
Copyright © 2018 by J. T. Barbarese
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
True Does Nothing is J. T. Barbarese’s sixth collection of poems. His poems and translations have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Boulevard, Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Times Literary Supplement. He has also published fiction in Boulevard and Narrative, and essays, reviews and literary journalism in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Threepenny Review, and the Wall Street Journal. He teaches literature and creative writing at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey.
“J.T. Barbarese’s new book is urgent, inventive, and wide awake. It makes a beautiful music out of the raggedest instruments, looks squarely upon defeat and is not defeated. I read it straight through and felt intensely, even defiantly, alive.”
“J.T. Barbarese’s poems are a dose of smelling salts in a sleepy, go-along world. The freshness of his language matches perfectly—abets, I should say—the freshness and candor of his world view. Tart and sere, and also witty and generous, True Does Nothing is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I particularly admire his long-lined, long-limbed odes. They are, like all the poems here, exuberantly musical and bracingly less deceived.”