Nick DiChario

Nick DiChario


Coffee and Donuts

As if I didn’t know

what was in store for me

during my college summer vacations

Pop would remind me each morning

“Your job is to mix the mud,”

and I would set to shoveling sand

and dumping buckets of water

and bags of Portland

into the cement box

dragging my hoe back and forth

hour after hour

sweating like a horse

mixing the gloppy manure

the masons needed to lay brick

my dad and uncle

building foundations and walls

like their father before them

with their hands and muscles

and bent backs

course after course

troweling mud from their mortar boards

onto red and yellow bricks or

gray blocks of cast concrete

their sleeveless t-shirts soaking

wet by mid-morning

the sound of their steel trowels

singing like tuning forks

across the face of the wall

as I watched the buildings grow

one cinder block at a time

up and across, up and across

tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap

gently nudging thirty-pound

cement slabs this way and that way

like musicians, artisans

with wooden mallets

eyeballing the strike line

checking their levels

reaching for the next block that

I’d set on the scaffolding

for them to lift and lay.


In the beginning of summer

the worn out work gloves

I wore could not keep

the tender skin on my hands

from scratching and bleeding

but by the end of August

my bare hands were so rough

I could sand a 2×4 with my palms

my body as lean and strong

as a jackal’s and my face as

brown as the stogies

my dad and uncle smoked

during the ten-minute breather

they called a coffee break

all of us standing beside the

newly minted wall

enveloped in the smells

of wet stone

and mortar

and cigar smoke

for a few precious moments of shade

in the ninety-degree heat

of Rochester, New York.


“Go get us some coffee and donuts,”

my uncle would say

peeling a twenty off the fat roll of bills

he kept wadded in his pocket

laying brick was a cash business back then

everything under the table

no union but the family union

I felt rich at the end of the day

at the end of the week

at the end of summer

my own roll of twenties

stuffed in my pocket

for books and beer

for movies and girls

for coffee and donuts

hard earned cash money

working class Italian money

which meant something

back in the day.


Four decades later

I drive down the streets of

the old neighborhood

and gaze up at the structures

my dad and uncle built

and I think,

what have I built?

what have I done with my life?

nothing like this

no monument or edifice

that I can lay my hands on

or stand beside and look up

and say this will survive me

this will live long after I’m gone

what have I built?

what have I done?

here in this land of opportunity

words across a printed page



intellectual property

no children to call my own

to live and die for

what would my ancestors

from Sicily

from Naples

who sacrificed everything

to give me this chance at life

have made of me?


God help me

I just don’t know.



Nick DiChario’s writing has appeared in many magazines and anthologies. He’s written two novels, A Small and Remarkable Life and Valley of Day-Glo, and guest-edited a special issue of Voices in Italian-Americana dedicated to Italian folktales (V28, 2, 2017). He is currently working on a collection of his own original Italian folktales.