Nothing changes from
generation to generation
except the thing seen
and that makes a composition. . .
Gertrude Stein
The trains my father rode
never went anywhere
he stepped on and off them
coupling and uncoupling
and explosives
his destination
and Hitler

The change he spared us
like tobacco
my motherís dollar
Rachel #2
his Bull Durham bag
and her big
black pocket book
it was real money

Under the elm tree
in the back yard
Bea Nauman said
Finvolaís father
rolls his own

could hardly
in front of 
the other girls

Bea was bigger
but she
couldnít write
I did her book reports
because she lived
next door
she got an A
on Bulwer-Lyttonís
The Last Days of Pompeii
I found out how
people turned to stone

Now my motherís headís
thrown back
her armís up to take down
the long gone
work clothes
laughing   laughing
at how
I didnít know
his own

To this day
still got that look
he had
when the war tax came
he said
aren't a luxury
you take a woman
going to work
in the office for instance

It isn't fair


But first let me tell you about the snapdragons
the pink ruby yellow and white ones
in the tall footed glass my grandmother
used for celery
itís on the old secretary
we shouldnít have cut down
so that it could no longer hold
The Worldís Hundred Greatest Detective Stories
in their bright red bindings
I got through all of one vacation
sitting in the brown velvet chair with the ottoman
my aunt gave my uncle for his birthday
in Bay Village
right on the lake outside of Cleveland
just down the road
from where that summer a man told the police
a bushy-haired intruder
had gotten into the house and murdered
his wife
and they searched and searched for a person
fitting that description
but they never found one and my uncle
was sure they never would
because the man had killed his wife himself
but the jury would not
recommend the death penalty he said
later during the trial
because they would deliver the verdict
on Christmas Eve
and no jury ever did that to a man
on Christmas
his father whose photograph
stood on the table next to the velvet chair
had witnessed an execution once
in some official capacity
and afterward had thrown up
he was a rock-ribbed Republican
my aunt said
so I wondered a lot about that
somebody was always
getting the chair in Ohio
and if it happened as it usually did
at night
my mother would sit on the couch
across from the radio
near the wall where she had put
a picture
of Mary Magdalene   bared to the waist
and kneeling
with her long hair hanging down
and when time ran out and the Governorís call
didnít come
sheíd always say
some poor motherís heart is broken tonight
hers was anyway
it got to be part of our evening programs
after jack Armstrong and The Lone Ranger
and Little Orphan Annie
we stayed tuned in for the execution
we knew by heart what would happen
the condemned man ate a hearty dinner
the priest administered the last rites
there was the long walk to the green door
and then
the strapping in
was the Capitol of punishment
and as all those men went so my brother might
come under a bad influence
and end up like Jimmy Cagney instead of Pat OíBrien
in the movies every Saturday
because we were poor and Irish
and hadnít she seen him
behind the window of the pool hall on Main Street
chalking up a cue tip
as cool as a cucumber a cigarette
dangling from between his lips
and he was there with her in the stands
the night
the Mangan girls and I
and hundreds of others
danced under the lights
in the huge stadium
and the Governor rode around and around waving
his hat
from the back seat of an open car
while the band played Beautiful Ohio
and my mother had told me earlier
fixing my hair in the bedroom
she hated him
the tree surgeon
and we stood in a ring and waved back
in our pink ruby yellow and white
July 24, 1990