~These poems were selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor, Poetry
~This poem was previously published in Paterson Literary Review (2004).
The Ghost of My Grandfather
It was a summer night in August
when my grandfather came downstairs from his bedroom
wearing an undershirt, scarf, dress pants and hat,
and asked my father to call him a cab because he wanted to go home.
Gramps was eighty-two, I was ten, and he’d lived with us for seven years.
When my father questioned him, reminded him that he was home,
Gramps gave his boyhood address in Darby, two towns from where we lived,
close enough for a man to smell the ham and cabbage
his mother cooked for him on special occasions.
After hours attempting to convince him
he lived with us, fruitlessly showing him his bedroom,
my father called for a cab, slipped the driver extra cash
and asked him to drive Gramps around the block a few times
before bringing him home. Fifteen minutes later
he was sound asleep in his bed.
Sometimes the mind plays tricks on you, son, my dad said.
Three weeks later my grandfather died.
I drive to my parents’ house for Friday night pizza
and my eighty year old father, who no longer looks like
he’ll live forever, calls to my mother like a crow
home home I want to go home. Later, I drive my father to Darby,
where he was born, where his father was born, past Fitzgerald
Mercy Hospital where I was born. He sees the pointed brown bricks
of his childhood, overlooks new storefront signs, falls back into
1940 and penny candy, today’s Soul Food Store once again
Waxman’s Shoes, smell of glue, rubber, and polish permeating the air.
I have always wanted to go back in time and meet my parents
as children, eye them walking home from school or chasing fireflies
on a summer evening, begging their parents for one more minute
of playtime before surrendering to the darkness, and now, here
my father sits, man, boy, dad, son- a mixture of everything he is
and was, time stripped aside, years peeling away like old paint
to reveal bare, clean wood, a moment where the sea of consciousness
is parted by some invisible staff we cannot grasp.
~This poem was previously published in Slipstream (2005).
We'd spend hours
pairs of sneakers
at telephone wires,
drumming our past
into the future
the way our big brothers did.
They dangled like trophies,
a mid-air walk of fame
bigger and brighter
than when worn,
you'd tell big-fish tales
about the fade-away you made
over the blacktop kingpin
to whoever would listen—
mostly old men in the barbershop
on Saturday mornings,
asking which pair were yours,
growing younger themselves
as you told your story,
wondering how wingtips might look
shining in the sun, what they would say
to their wives if they returned home
~This poem was previously published in The Silt Reader (2007).
Getting Him Back
Last night my dog
strolled into the living room,
lifted his leg,
and urinated on the carpet.
Son of a bitch, I thought.
I jumped up off the couch,
walked out into the backyard,
and pissed in the dog house.
That oughta teach him.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
The Ghost Of My Grandfather
The impetus for this poem was visiting my father in the hospital, at a time when he’d been shuttling back and forth between rehab facility and hospital, having difficulty swallowing, losing weight and being tube fed.
For most of his 76 years, his hair was jet black, and almost overnight it turned into a silver-white, like Charlton Heston’s Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” After one visit, I left with an ominous feeling, realizing that even as an adult I’d been living that lie about my parents always being there for me, and that my father ‘no longer looked like he’ll live forever.’
With that realization, it’s no surprise I went back to the story and death of my grandfather, a time when I was too young to realize what a profound effect it might have had on my father. The story is of the type that when you tell it to people who know you’re a poet, they say “there’s a poem in there” or “you should write a poem about that.” I was finally able to write the poem, and with the year my father passed away.
I grew up in a small suburb just outside Philadelphia, PA. Utility poles and power lines dotted the landscape like trees, and every school playground had basketball courts, as did many driveways, not to mention the local swim club where three courts- small, medium, and regulation- ran parallel to each other. The family photo album has a picture of me in first grade, squinting up into the sunshine and camera, holding my Biddy Basketball trophy. Apart from organized sports, as I got older I realized there was an alternative way to earn a trophy, a rite of passage involving old sneakers- Dr. J’s, Chuck Taylors, Keds. The most impressive way to get your sneakers up on the wires was without anyone seeing you. This became the birth of town rumor- stories, myths, and legends were made.
Getting Him Back
This is a fairly straightforward piece, the result of a meditation on revenge and the lengths people will go to for carrying out such acts. To avoid being preachy, the poem utilizes two of my favorite techniques- humor and absurdity. Here, art is imitating life.
ABOUT MICHAEL MORELL
Michael Morell is currently completing a Master’s in Applied Meditation Studies at Won Institute in Glenside, PA. He lives in the Philadelphia area and enjoys photography, swimming, and bird watching. His writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Paterson Literary Review, Rattle, Lingerpost, Slipstream, and Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature.