It was the watches I wanted, those radium dials
Glowing like bomb sights
When I cupped my palm.
Of radioactivity—the hour hand;
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
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
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.
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.