Mike Rose

Mike Rose




Matteo wired his mortuary

for police calls.

Joey would wait for death to pop

through the crackling dispatches.

He knew the short cuts,

the back roads in the mountains:

Joey gliding through blue smoke,

the first to slip tags on warm toes.


Matteo believed in Joey,

knew he was a natural.

He taught him the quick loop,

the advantage of a calm hand.

They sit at the card table,

steam from fresh coffee

rising through their hair.

Matteo pats Joey’s arm.  

The kid made a reputation

on his first wreck.





Coiffed Ida Russo

rushes the stews and sauces.

Dutch waits in the iron shadows

with a sprig of Queen Anne’s Lace.

She caps the pots and runs to the lift.

Dutch kisses her hands,

hugs her enormous bosom.  

They go to his car

where they smoke cigarettes

and create a life in Altoona.

At midnight, right at closing time,

he puts her on the Seventh Street bus.

Her husband will be drunk-asleep.

She’ll put on a pot of coffee

and plan the menu

for the next day.  



There’s a rattle at the door.

The full shape of Bogard

covers the screen.

He crosses with a howdy and a clank

and a long reach to sweetrolls and coffee.

Ida describes the sink,

its berry-colored muck,

its unholy stubbornness.

Bogard understands.

He sees Ida elbow-deep in embarrassment—

imagines reaching around her

with a plumber’s sure hand

to free the drain,

to send all this oil and peel and pulp

swirling deep into the earth.  



Feeling his way from bedroom to parlor,

Ida’s husband tosses two socks on the chair.

“He keeps tearing them.

Is it his toes?” she wonders.

Always too long and bony.

Or his nails, wild and jagged.

Ida imagines his feet ripping through cotton,

through wool, through shoe leather.


Across the street, the Blue Bell’s neon

flashes on and off, on and off.

Blue light skips across Ida’s window,

off a spring of Queen Anne’s Lace

setting on the sill.  

The flower shifts from blue

to white, blue to white,

to white,

to white.


Mike Rose is a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. He writes on educational and social issues, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. His books include The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us, and Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.