As I Was Telling Dave and Alex Kelley
My brother swears this is true.
And others have willingly—
As they did that other time when
After leaving an office party
They pulled off the expressway,
Walked into a place he'd never
Been to before, and ordered
A few more drinks while he
Headed for the lavatory.
But as he was crossing the dining room
On the other side of the bar
This vicious fight broke out.
Two women—well-dressed, tall,
Gorgeous—tore into each other,
Punching, clawing, swinging
Spike-heeled shoes, pulling
Each other's hair, and my brother,
Aghast, jumped between them
To break it up, grabbed them roughly,
Held them apart, berated
Them, tried to shake some sense
Into—when he gradually pieced
It all together: the changed look
On their faces, the disapproval,
The utter silence of condemnation
That everyone aimed not at the women
But at him, the fact that
It was a supper club theatre
And he had just jumped into
The climactic scene of a play—
But this, I hasten to add, is not
About my brother but his neighbor,
A man whose roof needed repair;
A man who, more than most, feared heights.
A ladder to this neighbor
Didn't ordinarily suggest the kind
Of elevating work that joins
The material to the spiritual,
So before mounting it he called
His children over and, as he wrapped
A rope thick enough to moor a barge
Around his waist and lashed
The other end around the car bumper,
Carefully explained to them
How they should steady the ladder
Until he had climbed onto the roof.
Up he went, not overstepping
But securing both feet on the same rung
Before proceeding to the next:
A trembling man on a trembling ladder.
He squirmed over the drain,
Crawled up the not very steep slope,
Flopped over the peak, then slid
Inch by inch down the rear slope
Until he felt confident enough
To kneel instead of crawl,
To sigh and take a deep breath
Before he began to cut a shingle.
Perhaps the first horripilating signal
Was a subtle tug on the rope,
Like an angel plucking a harp string.
Perhaps it was a sudden tautness
Around his waist, or, perhaps,
He heard the station wagon door
Slam shut, then the ignition,
The engine roar to life, or
Slowly, grindingly churn before it
Kicked in and he was yanked heavenward
Then jerked back, slammed, twisted,
Keelhauled belly up, belly down,
Over the roof, dashed onto the driveway
To be dragged, dribbled,
Bounced hard along the road, his
Wife looking this way and that
As she drove on, wondering
Wherever were those screams coming from?
Doctors, police, all believed
She could very well have not seen
The rope; could not, with windows
Rolled up, have ascertained,
While they lasted, the source,
Proximity and intensity of the screams.
And I, for one, though respectful
Of the family's desire for privacy,
Think for numerous, inevitable,
Sociological but mostly religious
Reasons, this place, this event,
This man deserves a shrine
Which, if donations are forthcoming,
I am willing to oversee
The construction of
At 145 Sampson Avenue,
Islip, Long Island, New York.
That's right, that's the name
Of the place: Islip. I swear.
Paul Violi, Selected Poems 1970-2007, Rebel Arts, 2014.