In the days when I wrote shorts stories
and still didn't know how dreadful they were,

when I used the real names of everyone 
I knew, I could not imagine

anything other than how they dressed,
what they ate, and why they did the expected.

And I didn't notice across the river
and overcast afternoon in Manhattan, or see

the girl who's taken to the children's bookstore
where her favorite author signs his latest work.

Her mother, who's recently divorced
and would never describe herself as impulsive

discovers she's attracted to the man,
and while afterward her daughter pretends

to examine the displays of books, the woman
invites him to their apartment for dinner.

The shop where this will happen is small
but well situated, filling steady orders

from the private schools that seem to be 
on every other block. The girl, who's seven

and still loves being read to, is in her room
that looks across to Riverside Park. 

A wall calendar reads 1980,
which seems right for the styles of dresses

hanging in her closet, or the pink
record player that sits in one corner

and is living on borrowed time. In the kitchen
she has to be told more than once to eat lunch,

but she is thinking about later, and while
she isn't sure what will happen at the bookshop,

she dreams of discouraging clouds 
which shadow the other children,

that rain will punish their beautiful mothers,
though none as beautiful as hers,

and she can see―seated at a table,
fountain pen in his long fingers

and waiting patiently, the handsome prince
whose story she will write without my help.

More by David Petruzelli

Father Listens to the Artists

When I was eight months old, Jackson Pollock

stuck his hand in my crib and let me squeeze

one of his fingers. He was in my parents' kitchen

in Hoboken, where we lived for three years;

he said the new linoleum reminded him

of one of his paintings. Every time my mother

tells the story, she always adds, "this is true"; 

but my mother can't tell stories.

And my father has stopped remembering.

What never changes is my hand touching Pollock's

and who was watching; my parents and my father's 

best friend from childhood—Nick Carone,

a painter who had brought along his famous pal

partly to show off, partly in the hope

Pollock would notice that the work my parents

loyally hung in our living room was Nick's.

But all Pollock cared about, my mother says, 

was how much beer was left, how much money 

Nick could con my father into giving them,

until the bottles on the table clinked happily

and the artists looked at each other

like lovers who had forgotten our world.

Then Nick placed his hands on my father's shoulders,

Pollock called over to my mother,

who had gone to my crib. Without looking up

she broke her train of baby talk to say goodbye,

but watched my father follow them out

into the hall and stand at the top of the stairs,

waiting as both men began the long walk down.

It's at this point my mother always stops to ask,

Do I remember we lived on the fifth floor?

And by now I've learned to answer, yes I do.

Invitation

Out late, Robert and Steven are at it again, arguing
on the front steps, which means it’s Wednesday, and my landlords
are back from Toby’s, their favorite East Rutherford bar—

two short, round, middle-aged men with matching moustaches,
their voices raised over God-knows-what dispute,
which always includes an exasperated Steven

shouting, “Come on, you know I’m right,” while Robert
mimics his partner in a singsong voice he’s most likely used
since grade school, until Steven says, “Shut up, please,”

followed by, “Shut up shut up shut up,” as if saying it
three times quickly is Steven’s sure way to open their door.
But the next morning, on my walk to the train, I would greet them

as they returned from a postbreakfast stroll—looking rested,
younger somehow, as if all the yelling I heard
had been someone else. There was even an offer of Sunday dinner,

followed, the next time I saw them, by Robert’s
happy description of a home-cooked meal. It was my first
real visit upstairs, and they were on their best behavior.

Steven stayed busy with cooking—and smells that recalled,
very pleasantly, my mother’s London broil—while Robert
kept me company with La clemenza di Tito on the stereo;

I took a timid sip of wine and let Robert do the talking.
“So you’re a typist?” he asked. “Typesetter,” Steven
called out helpfully from the kitchen, before I could answer.

Robert smiled, as if our chef had reminded him
that the boy tenant from below, besides being shy
was also a bit dull. But finally we sat down to eat,

and it was an excellent meal (my mother again),
and afterward, their high school yearbook came off the shelf.
We ended up on the sofa, with me between them

as we finished our coffee, and Robert, who took charge
of the book, offered the best comments, adding
his own captions. Then he began to flip pages in earnest,

as if the one he was looking for kept backing away.
The opera was over, and I couldn’t say
when that had happened, but I knew we’d come to the place

where I was supposed to pay attention, Steven too:
the gray photos skipping past
were black-and-white again, and Robert’s voice had changed.

Sayre Family Letters

It might have been that haunted cellar
her sister Rosalind dared her to go
down into and Zelda didn’t think twice
about exploring, or it could have been
out back in a shed like the one where
she began storing her paintings
after Mrs. Sayre claimed she tripped
over a stack of them, and then spent
the afternoon on the front porch
with one leg resting on a sofa pillow.
By the time her baby learned to read,
the shoebox of letters was nowhere
to be found, and no one in the family
could say where they went, but Zelda
remembered them tied by thread
in small bundles; she put each one
to her ear, and thumbed it like money.
We’re all here, the first stack told her.
We’ll miss you, whispered the last.