And what about the women Johnny?
“Ah. First there was Elizabeth.
Well I loved her, but she was a genius
unfortunately so she had to go off to college
got herself an MRS degree. Lives in Wichita
with a rich proctologist. Got a letter from her a few
years back. Runs the local women’s club.
Better for her, she never woulda been happy here,
too much sky, not enough vinyl siding.
Cynthia, now she was a sweetheart, all wheat colored hair
big blue eyes that reflected everything.
But I was too young & she was even younger
& I had too many moral shortcomings to look up to.
Becky was a waitress, the first of many redheads.
We were happy outside of town.
I got a job at a piano bar, made a little money.
We found a little apartment, paid first & last.
Thought maybe I’d found paradise.
Paradise by the way, is a cup of black coffee
& a piece of apple pie with American cheese
whenever you want it, for free, & a pretty girl
in a blue uniform brings it, slides
it on the table with a wink with the promise
of more sweetness later.
She got hooked on dope.
Ran off on me. Closed the door on that chapter.”
And is it true that when you were born, your parents were in the circus?
“My folks had the kind of love story you dream about.
My father was an acrobat, my mother was the bearded lady.
They’d talk after the show around the fire, drinking with the clowns
& at first she just made him laugh but after a while he realized
he kept thinking of her pretty voice & nice figure.
& how kind she was to all the animals, even the ornery old Russian
circus bear who would drink beer & was addicted to cigarettes.
She was the only one who could calm Sergei when the last bottle
was empty. So finally one day he told her that he loved her
but that the beard was, as they say, a deal breaker.
That was her livelihood though, & she was notoriously clumsy
so juggling & acrobatics were out of the question.
They hit upon the solution, she went down to Shotsies Ink
Parlour & in three months time she was a tattooed lady,
they were married, & I was on the way. Truly one
of the great romances. Till death did part them.”
We can get you anything you want Johnny, just sign right there.
Leaning back in his chair, still slouching
he adjusted his hat, jiggled his foot.
Christa Pagliei is the daughter of a locksmith. She grew up in northern NJ, graduated from the University of Vermont and is one of the founding members of the Burlington Poetry Society. She lives in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.