Father has lost everything: the business,
his wife and children, his wild
       confidence. I’m with him
       for a long summer at
the Greystone Hotel. I have to
study Latin and when we’re not
       talking or out selling,
       I follow Julius Caesar
into Gallia and that farthest outpost
where the hairy Britons live. Our
       room faces Broadway, but
       we’re high enough not
to hear the noise. The Greystone
has known better days. We say
       we don’t care. It’s
       good to be together.
He shows me how to shave
and I practice carefully, imitating his
       stroke and the way
       he uses his fingers.
He has nothing left from the
company but three valises: mainly straps,
       eight fancy gold watches
       in modern shapes, some
semiprecious stones and a few
small diamonds. We figure about $500.
       Enough to live through
       the summer. And then?
What we sell we share for
rent and food. I am thrilled
       because I am with
       Dad. He’s showing me
things, and we often chat through
the night, from bed to bed,
       with the deepest confidence.
       I adore him, and
he always tells me I’m his
one love. But he is pained
       and depressed, though he says
       with me he’s not.
We take the IRT to Wall
Street and systematically make the rounds
       of each jewelry store.
       Some of the owners,
old clients, recognize father. He gets
furious, embarrassed, or glad according to
       what they say. We
       lay the valises with
straps on the counter and Dad
begins to sell. I too add
       key information about soft
       Swiss leather. If we
sell 2 gold watches and 100
watchstraps, we can make it through
       a week of diners
       and the Greystone. If
we have a good day we celebrate
at Starkers or some better place.
       Dad shows me how
       to read a newspaper
in the subway, folding it correctly.
What will we do when it’s
       all gone? Yet father
       trades a few stones
and buys a diamond with all
he’s got left. He sells it
       a few days later,
       doubling our cash. Now
he brings out the stones first.
On Sundays we boat or go 
       out to a beach
       or watch the seals.
He’s thinking of leaving the city.
We make all kinds of plans
       at night. I see
       him shaving, his face
lathered and sparkling. One late afternoon
we are strolling up Broadway. I’d been
       studying Latin words for
       hours. The top papers
on the stand read: GERMANS INVADE
POLAND! WORLD WAR! Father’s going west
       and I must soon
       separate again from him
when we have finally found ways
to be free, to keep all
       riches in a tiny
       velvet cloth, and laugh.
One day in China I dream
of father coming into the room.
       He’s shaving. He’s come
       back to talk again.

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.