My Father at the Piano
Inside the house where our parents raised us
he is alone,
my sisters with families of their own
not far away.
I am visiting for the weekend, my own family
hours from here.
He is playing something he’s always played,
about a mother near death
for a son that destiny stole
for a king.
It’s all too dramatic, from where I’m standing
outside his door.
He is not playing to remember
He is playing not to remember
and not to forget.
He is filling the house with cadences
as his wife’s voice when the phone rang
as he sat here, neither aged nor alone,
in a melody that comes to him
like the upstairs laughter of children
when they hear the music that is
Music for an MRI with Contrast
Slide me in and I’ll remember.
Ask me what music I’d like,
classical or classic rock.
We’ll go with what’s on.
With the mirror in place.
I can peek out of the tube.
But first, dark memory.
Vivian the nurse adopted girls
with accents: Anna Maria and Elise,
Italian when I was wholly so,
when my mother took me to visit:
backyard, lawn and concrete,
umbrella clothesline and plastic trays,
antipasto in the summer sun.
Golden rays across my arm
felt like my father tucking me in
and leaving the radio on.
My mother in the mirror
at my feet, with cardinals’ wings
my sisters knew she’d have.
My father, 85 now at the table
shows me a shot of his girlfriend,
my mother two years gone
and now back
sings along to “Freebird,”
flapping like a fledgling.
Vivian delivered her
when my mother’s mother
ran the NICU ward
named for a doctor and sage
who wrote down principles of faith.
I believe the Italian girls
are sliding gently into tubes,
their ancient music playing
until mine stops, spooking
my mother, who flies to them.
The voice from the booth
says I’m doing fine.
It will all be over soon.
Mick Jagger sings
You can put me out
with no shoes on my feet.
It’s too cold to go barefoot
today unless you’re in a grave.
That’s a morbid thought,
my father would say.
Don’t worry, the sun’s out.
It’s warmer than it should be.
I don’t look beyond the tube.
The next song was recorded
to outlast MRIs—
wail-outs and drum fills.
I forget the lyrics.
I wait for the voice,
but all I hear is hum,
the universe without music,
a sound to erase
what machines discover.
A Puzzled Mason
A low brick wall at the driveway’s foot
means no parking forever,
means folding chairs on concrete
and a metal awning to protect them,
means stone flower pots for privacy.
It means a son who wouldn’t leave
and a mother who didn’t drive,
means a father who didn’t live
and a puzzled mason.
It is six layers of argument,
is a methodical exorcism,
is a sideways stack of votives
casting an absent shadow
on an altar to egos.
More Like Louis Prima
I look more like Louis Prima every day,
like my great aunts in fading color
Polaroids from 1975, the year he went
into a coma and never came out,
which is pretty depressing until you think
that he’s been dead for decades and still
people know his songs, if not his name.
To some he is the dear great uncle
they never knew well but loved from afar.
You may say that a few decades mean nothing,
the time from Storyville to The Bomb.
Just two decades back I could be seductive
as the Storyville women of the night,
who were not the vampires you might conjure,
but wayward Black Italian girls
like the one who had me on Canal Street
at a conference for people who love Louis Prima.
How could I know my life would come down
to how attractive women found Louis Prima,
to how my friends have welcomed his face,
to whether or not they expect me to sing
“I Ain’t Got Nobody” and care to leave
do-be-do-be-dubious traces when I do.
Anastasia, take the empty jugs
and untie the goats so they can eat.
The journey begins again tomorrow.
We may drink from the rivers and streams
if the soldiers haven’t poisoned them.
Gather the children’s best clothes
to wear when the rains come
and after, if bombs still fall, for
the cold and snow and shelter
with whoever may take us in.
I am leaving now in search of gasoline
as far as what’s left will take me.
If there are checkpoints
and I don’t return by morning,
I will call to say it’s time
to escape however you can.
Remember that you know nothing of war
except for the explosions you hear.
Your husband is gone, and you are
frightened. Your children are hungry.
Your neighbor’s house has been destroyed.
Treat the soldiers as though they were our brothers
gone off to fight in their country.
Offer them a crust of bread and a drink.
Everyone needs a rest. No one knows
what we need to keep ourselves.
George Guida is the author of ten books, including five collections of poems. His collections Zen of Pop (Long Sky Media) and New York and Other Lovers (Encircle Publications) appeared in 2020. His debut novel Posts from Suburbia (Encircle) appeared in 2022, and his second novel, The Uniform (Guernica Editions) is due out in 2024.