In Our Life Watch

In our life watch we are down to five
or six Pierre Grange watches, a jeweler’s box
of soft Swiss straps and a few 
precious stones we are selling off to pay  
the Greystone Hotel bill and meals.
Dad and I leave early each morning 
on our rounds in the labyrinths
of narrow jewelry stores downtown.
How will we eat after our loot is gone? No worry. 
Some way. I love this summer in New York, 

best in my life. Not Camp Modin in Maine 
with its daybreak lake and canoe trips
but real city watch shops with grownup men
we waylay and haggle with. On Sunday 
we prowl Coney Island or the World’s Fair. 

Dad was twelve when he left home and school. 
I’ll soon be twelve and I’ve got 
my father as my closest pal. We celebrate 
each sale, each trade. One afternoon 
with a twinkle he slaps down 300 bucks

for a diamond—most of what we have 
to live on. Next day sells it for a thousand. 
He finds the way. Things get so good 
we spend our Sundays watching Gehrig 
and DiMaggio knocking leather into the bleachers 
or Peewee Reese catching the impossible. 
We miss the Series when Dad goes West 
but I grab wartime trains to meet him 
on our swinging life watch through red
mountain states and Mexico adventures. 

In Mexico City he marries a child bride 
and I’m living with Spanish children
from the civil war in a barred-in orphanage
where I share a room on the roof. 
Then, too soon, Dad and I talk all night

in our New York hotel. Lying on narrow beds, 
we conjure up Rembrandt’s beggar in baggy  
nobleman’s dress, how the Swedish Angel 
wrestler hugs a foe till he drops inert. 
Then the hill of debts. Am I father tonight?

In the morning I leave for Maine,
he’s on a plane to Mexico where he must 
pawn his soul for silver. No luck. 
He flies to Colorado, plays a last card
at a Denver bank. Loses. Van Gogh’s face

against the wall, he climbs high to the roof
where he folds his coat, places it
on a stone bench near the ledge, his hat on top. 
He steps over the low railing, leaps, 
and floats in blind sorrow out into May sun. 

Dad’s fallen again, but we can’t wake early  
and look up a small jewelry shop 
to peddle our wares and hearts,
our soft Swiss straps or cold diamond,
since death at last has cleaned us out.

From Mexico In My Heart: New And Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2015) by Willis Barnstone. Copyright © 2015 by Willis Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.