Radium City

It was the watches I wanted, those radium dials

Glowing like bomb sights


When I cupped my palm.



Of radioactivity—the hour hand;

Nether-wisp—the second.


For weeks my mother worked the counter at Kresge’s—

Her faded pink smock


As tight as a nurse’s—

As she laid out the bands in their false


Reptilian shines—

The cowboy tans, the avocado greens.  This


Was Radium City

And my mother, Marie


Curie, scientist of jewels and hams,

The chunks of meat slapped


Like memory into the knife

And the iridescence sliced to pieces as thin


As winter sky, shaved uranium.

I had to stack them high to tongue the plugs


Of fats, the permeating salts.

The roll breaking in my hands like a ball of


Glass.  And the stench of drugstore

Popcorn, its second perfume


Mingling with what my mother wore

As she shoveled out


The bags like spent carnival fortunes.

More money was one we wasted on ourselves.


Or new drapes.

One last snap of the Tupperware over the nightly concoctions


No one ever wanted to eat.

I’d go away and ponder mono/stereo


For the extra buck

In the lp bins, or keep an eye walking


Home for Tarzan—

Weissmuller in a shiny Olds or Cadillac.


And then wait out the summer hours pitching

A 9-inning game


In a chalk box the side of the house.

Ferguson Jenkins for 7 or so,


Then Abernathy for the submarine.

Next door a neighbor would peg out his pet


Skunk and I’d listen as it roiled

With thirst


Or hunkered under diving blue jays,

Their cobalts dipped


In the mouth of the sun

And set out like hour hands


To the shadowed yard.

The Cubs would lose.


Weissmuller never show.

The Mexican kids from Dempster would threaten


To beat my ass into the street

And leave me there


Dented and ringing as a hubcap,

Another rat-faced kid


Waiting for his mother to come home.

Pink smock.


Ham in a pocket.

Singing beyond the genius of the meats,


The radium dials, the gems,

The gold fish


And guppies in their clouds of hopelessness.

The kiss, the mother’s kiss, put like a cure to the child’s face.

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