In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots I have never seen a post-war Philco with the automatic eye nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did in 1945 in that tiny living room on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming, my mother red with laughter, my father cupping his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum, half fart, the world at last a meadow, the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us screaming and falling, as if we were dying, as if we could never stop—in 1945— in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany— oh God of mercy, oh wild God.
I resisted spending money and I held fast
against almost everything, including
washing machines and cheap cars.
I lived by my wits, you know that,
and came back to America
with eighteen dollars in my pocket,
but there were many of us
mostly in Dutch freighters
that unloaded in Hoboken
in a voyage of potatoes and gravy.
Did you ever see how small the seedpod is
for the black locust? I wrote about that.
Now I live under its shade
and protect it from farmers
looking for fence posts,
farmers whom I hate, saying
they have abandoned the one or two days they
spent with some early nineteenth-century poets
when their teachers, Miss This and Miss That,
who lived by yearning
especially when the sun broke through
their classroom windows on a June afternoon
almost giving way to sobbing,
with a book in one hand I remember
held high as if against the axe,
as if to give shelter, for that’s what
it was, oh Miss Pickard, Miss Schlessinger.