The Baltimore sky hung
above Gwynn Oak amusement park
that summer evening.
People approached at angles
in streaming intersections,
as I heard the roar
of the roller coaster
carrying laughter and screams.
Then I saw a boy my age
pass by wearing a dark red
Tyrolean hat with a white feather
making the first crack
that in later years would be filled
by crowded rooms electric
with sinister gazes.
Why that ostentation
agitated me I can’t say
as I look back
at that fog of Ferris wheels
and cotton candy.
Identity Loss at the Movies
Down a summer street off Myrtle Avenue
in Brooklyn near the El station,
I watch an Oriental epic
in the charcoal hush of the Ritz Theater
while thinking of the first feature about Joan of Arc.
Somewhere in the celluloid haze,
I’ve dropped my paper school ID card.
Outside, I fidget through my pockets –
crows circling in my thoughts,
hectoring in Anglicized German:
“How could you be so careless;
why didn’t you use your head?”
Years later, it will be found
in a layer of soot – a smiling fifteen year old
in a button-down head shot revealed
by then as a mask burned away
at the stake of daily life.
On the screen, Chinese porters carry
supplies over the border of a mountain pass
of craggy rock and abyss sky
aflame with the Tibetan sun
whose billion facets I would enter
through colored tablets I swallowed
in my early twenties.
The ignited kindling at my feet
would rise into my brain
with more knowledge than I could program
and I’d start to wonder
if my mirror image was real.
But at eighteen, I’d already begun
to fall out of lockstep
with the other soldiers and sense
their jeers before they spoke –
trains coming from blocks away,
shaking the upper windows of the neighborhood.
Polaroid Journey Back
I’m going back to
the polaroid length
of the Delaware river.
Standing by its overcast shore
in Wilmington with my grandmother
who mutters in German,
I am four years old
and less than three feet tall –
an unwitting replica
of Trudy Montag’s main squeeze.
Tonight, I’m looking through
black and white photographs
of my first ten years,
watching my lack of stature
and downcast face winding back
to its headwaters.
The camera’s droll eye
catches me bow-tied
in white shirt and Sunday school slacks
a few years later –
a living room quarterback
ready to throw a football
while looking towards the floor:
“hey, go out for a long one,
if you really want to “ –
it seems to say.
Or there I am at the front door
of our Maryland address
in the uniform of a space man –
pointing a ray gun
at the other dime store -
costumed invaders from down the block.
And though I eventually reached
the height of 5’ 6”,
there was a swift current
that ran through me
carrying the same sentiment
of the protagonist in “The Tin Drum”who never wanted to grow up.