Charles Joseph

Mary on a Half-Shell
For my father

People always want to know
why so many Italian Americans

have a Mary on a half-shell
in their windows or on their lawns

and there is no precise answer to that question
but I do know exactly why we had ours

because one day when I was a kid
I took a ride with my father

to help him pick out a statue
and carry it to the car

“A fanabla,” my father said, “look at Jesus,
he must weigh tree-hundred pounds.”

“Yeah, he’s huge,” I said, “can we get him?”

“No way Charlie-boy,” he said, “today, the weight of our lord
is just too much for us, let’s get Mary instead.”

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were
a notoriously handsome couple

who killed thirteen people
during a crime spree

at the height of the Great Depression
until the law tracked ‘em down

and cut ‘em down with a hail of bullets
that filled their ‘34 Ford full of lead

they died bloody in Louisiana
my wife and I live in New Jersey

and we haven’t robbed any gas stations,
restaurants, or small-town banks

and we haven’t killed anyone yet
but we are a notoriously handsome couple

so sometimes I say, “Hey Bonnie,”
and my wife throws her curly red hair back

and looks at me with her Irish eyes smiling
and says, “Hey Clyde,”

and as we stare at each other
it’s obvious that our love for each other

is only a hair trigger away from mowing down
anyone or anything that gets in our way

and I’m pretty sure we won’t die bloody
or even in each other’s arms, but until then

she’s my Bonnie and I’m her Clyde
and since I’m the one who always drives

I guess you already know
who’s riding shotgun.


or how to build an anticipatory grief bomb

My mother calls me just about every day
to remind me how worried she is about my father

he’s 80, too thin, smokes reds, has a mild case of COPD,
takes blood thinners, but otherwise fit as an antique fiddle

so if anything, this phone call is a just daily reminder
that my father’s life is a time bomb ticking down toward zero

that soon enough I will have no choice but to endure the impact
of his demise, that every conversation we have could be our last

because that’s just how it goes when those you love
are lucky enough to live long enough to grow old

and I wish I could explain that to my mother, tell her
she needs to come to terms with the fact that no one lives forever

but I can’t, so I don’t, and I just listen, and I guess
my father can’t either, so he doesn’t, and he just listens

but the funny thing is, the last time I spoke to my father
he told me the doctors want him to go in for a series of tests

to see if there’s anything wrong with him, so I asked him
if he was worried and he said, “No, but your mother is,

she doesn’t shut up about it. I swear to Christ Charlie-boy
that woman is gonna nag me to death,”

and I said, “I don’t know Pop. I mean, the clock’s tickin
and it makes me sad to say this, but at this point, anything’s possible.”

76 for the Boy from Mott Street

When my grandfather’s war
was still fresh in his thoughts

he would often wake screaming
in the middle of the night

from nightmares and flashbacks
that sent him back to the Pacific

where he dodged and fired bullets
for three treacherous years

while island hopping by Higgins boat
and landing face and head down

on blood-soaked sand beaches
among an ocean of bodies

rotting in the heat of the sun
as bright orange streams

of napalm-infused gasoline
hissed out of flamethrowers

that roasted and liquefied men alive
before his no-longer-innocent

twenty-something-year-old eyes
and vomit seeped out of his mouth

from the putrid stench
while the blasphemous sound

slashed his ear drums
to his Catholic core

and he shot scores of men dead
with names he couldn’t pronounce

that later hid under his bed at night
to haunt him until they disappeared

in a cloud of old age that wrinkled him
with enough infinite wisdom

to never forget where and why he learned
how to properly fold an American flag.

Our Lady of Montclair

There’s a homeless lady who sits or sleeps
on the ground beside the gas station convenience store
a few blocks away from my apartment

and the store is a total rip-off, they overcharge for everything
so I only go there when we accidentally run out of milk,
sugar, or cigarettes

but the owner is kind enough to leave her be, because
she doesn’t panhandle for change or harass anyone
inside or outside the store

no, she just sits out there against a wall with her arms locked
around her knees and gazes off into space or curls up and sleeps
on the ground, winter, spring, summer, or fall

and she’s not out there every day, sometimes not for days
or weeks, but even when she’s not around
people talk about her

but if anything, people who frequent the store
and even the guys who work there
just seem to worry about her

and some people do sit down and talk to her
while others just buy her a soda or a coffee and a buttered roll
and place it down next to her, but she never touches it

so it all just sits there and surrounds her
like offerings to a grim goddess of despair
until an attendant decides to toss it all in the trash

and I don’t go out of my way to talk to anyone
so I haven’t been avoiding her
but I also haven’t left her anything either

so the next time I see her I’ll say hello
and leave her something as a gesture of good faith
and common decency

because the truth is, no one has seen her for a while now
no one knows if she’s dead or alive
or even knows her name

so I guess I’ll just call her Our Lady of Montclair
until she hopefully returns one day to reclaim her grotto
and I can repent for ignoring her.

Charles Joseph lives and writes in New Jersey. Peppered by a battery of life experiences—good, great, bad, and worse—his poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in many literary journals and online magazines. His full-length poetry and short story collection, Chameleon (Omnibus Unum, 2012-2016), is available for purchase on Amazon. For information regarding live readings, upcoming projects, and more, follow Charles on Instagram @charlesjosephlit.