Tomato Pies, 25 Cents

Tomato pies are what we called them, those days,
before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother’s restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs
in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but
saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after
cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping
themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin
and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942,
tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6 pm).
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform,
lined up and laughing, learning Italian,
before being shipped out to fight the last great war.


for Ken Flynn

When you were in the 9th grade and I was in the 7th, you were

a crossing guard keeping order at Junior High School number 3.

          No one

was disobedient when you wore that wide yellow strap across

          your chest—

no one bruised another, caused trouble, or so much as threw a


no one cracked a joke about you, a man in uniform. How did

that yellow vest feed your soul to let you know someday you’d

fly a plane just to feel the power of a strap across your chest.


liberation— to know how to be in charge— strong and capable—

flying through gunfire and lightning again and again to come

          back to me.

Although we were young, you were 15 and I was 13, since then, 

          I’ve never

known the world without you. Now I must be 12.



If I were to ask what you’d like, it might be to say something kind about you,
Mention something from the past remembered with love.          

And so I do. Spaghetti sauce on the bus!
You getting up at dawn to cook it, I carrying a pot
Across two states to Princeton, New Jersey    

Where my professor lived      
And where
Students met to read their poems
Eating the sweet red specialty          
Lugged up and down stairs under a huge lid.       

No one could buy that kind of cooking, at least in those days,
Although now of course                      

There’s a restaurant on every corner            
I don’t know how I asked you, father, to prepare this dish
Or whether in fact you offered it knowing
Your meal was rare in American houses.

You remained at home that day while I entertained. 
I think you hoped to hear them say how sensitive you were,
A loving father, and so they did, admire you this night, poets
Heard by candlelight, a fireplace, a stove.
In a different room far away, you most likely wished I’d say
They liked it, Italian food, something different for me to share. Perhaps
I would say good of you. I’ll bet you went to bed easily: this time I’ve made her happy.



                for Graziela Zoda

What is the purpose of visits to me twice since you’ve

Downstairs near a woodstove I hear you
in motion, always working,
a long silken dress—
tight sleeves at your wrist, soft above the elbow
wide top at your shoulder for free movement.

When we were young you didn’t visit—
you never baked a cake that I remember
or babysat or held me in your lap.
you were in the men’s part of town running a man’s
calling the world to order,
seven children behind you
raised singlehandedly in your large house. You were
moving, always moving.

When I kept losing things like my parents,
        my children, money
my time and health
why did you appear in my room with gifts painted
red, yellow, blue,
brilliant colored toys. What
essential fact did you want me to know,
that the body is the essence of spirit and so
must be in motion?

Now that I’ve lost my foothold, my direction, my way,
what is your message, strong spirit,
strong Grandmother,
what is the meaning of your dream-present,
a bright clock shaped like a train—
                        simply that it moves?