Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

Spanish Harlem

 

 

 

 

The marimba of memory, struck

by a mallet of moonlight

as I listen to a song that’s been stuck

in my head for a week: Ben E. King’s

Spanish Harlem. I think of Michael,

my only Uncle, dead 11 months

yesterday. He was also

a singer, a performer of Doo-wop

in and after its heyday. Michael wasn’t

as successful as Ben E. King,

whose songs he liked to sing

more than anyone else’s.

But audiences applauded and whistled

as Michael danced, harmonized, and took the lead

on street corners, for gigs 

in banquet halls, auditoriums, fairgrounds, and church

basements. Demo tapes were made.

Checks were written, cashed, and saved:

his gold and platinum records,

his Apollo Theatre,

his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Michael drove

a bus to pay the bills, sometimes

a rig, others a limousine. Michael never missed an opportunity

to sing for an audience, even after a heart attack forced him

to walk and perform onstage

with a cane. Prior to his stroke

last year, he persisted, like the rose

that he and Ben E. King sang about 

in their respective styles of sonorous tenderness;

the red one, the one that grew through the concrete of El Barrio,

a lamp post, scuffed, flickering in its metallic tuxedo.

 



Almost Lucky

 

My father believed that he would be rich

one day. He bought scratch-offs

and lottery tickets the way a real estate mogul

purchases land. A hundred dollars worth

most weeks, two or three hundred

from time to time. My mother tried

to reason with him. Sometimes

she yelled. My father kept buying lottery tickets.

One time he nearly hit the jackpot. He had five

of the six required numbers. The last one missed

by a single digit: 35 instead of 36. “Almost

lucky,” my father said. He won the consolation prize:

3,000 dollars. A week later, he pulled into the driveway

with a new used car: a Navy blue Mercury

Lynx hatchback. He asked my mother

what she thought of it. She rolled her eyes

and stomped into the house; the sun sliding

in a stonewashed pocket of clouds.

 

 

 

 

Joey Nicoletti's most recent books are Thundersnow (Grandma Moses Press, 2017) and Reverse Graffiti (Bordighera, 2015). His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. A graduate of the Sarah Lawrence College MFA program, Joey teaches at SUNY Buffalo State College.