Letters from a Young Poet
Aug. 8, Rome, Italy
Isn’t this neat, my writing “Rome, Italy” on the top of the page like this? Yes, I am in Rome, and I am roaming around lost because that stupid Father Kevin gave me bum directions. I’m supposed to find a convent and a person named Suare Maura. I don’t know where this place is or what the hell a Suare is anyway, or how to spell it. Pretty soon I’ll need to find a person to ask directions because it’s hot and I’m still carrying my backpack. The problem is I don’t talk Italian except in curses. Maybe I’ll ask a policeman.
~ ~ ~
It’s later. I’m sitting next to the Trevi Fountain. It’s too hot here. More than on Long Island, I don’t care what you say. I’m carrying a bottle of water around because that’s what everyone else does as they walk. I keep going in circles, so I need a rest. But this water tastes pretty good. It’s Italian water that you can’t find in Deer Park, except maybe at Bruno’s deli on the corner.
~ ~ ~
I finally found Suare Maura and the convent. A policeman showed me the way. Turns out I’d passed it a million times today. I’m pretty beat. In fact, I’m so tired I’ve even stopped caring for now about you going off bowling with Al two weeks ago, breaking up with me by bowling instead of saying something face to face like a regular person would.
Still, I am writing to you, and I don’t even know why. Maybe because I have to tell you some last words, even if it’s from a great distance. That reminds me. I took my two weeks off from the toy store and came here not just to get away from you and stupid Deer Park. I came to write some poems and think about stuff. So maybe I will write a poem now. Maybe a poem about…you…and Al…bowling…
Right now I couldn’t write about anything else because I can’t think about anything else. You broke my heart, you know that? You and Al can go to hell. Especially Al. Not you as much. But still you.
Aug. 9, Rome, Italy
I’m sitting on a bench in some park, lost in Rome again. Not as lost as yesterday, but still lost. At least I’m not lugging that backpack.
I just ordered pizza from a guy in a vending truck. He does nothing but sing and bang on his pizza pans and other pots. It’s a bunch of different Italian songs. He has pop eyes. I didn’t need to speak Italian to him. He knew just what I wanted when I held up one finger and pointed to a slice.
Would you believe the pizza here in Italy is not like Deer Park pizza? They’re small, round individual slices and taste pretty good. I just started a poem about the pizza guy, but I can’t get it how I want it. Here it is so far.
Oh pizza man
You, with your popping eyes
And your round pizza and your cheerful songs
Banging your pots
Your pizza is the best
Oh, where do you get your bread
With which to make your slices
And do you by chance
Serve Italian ices?
That’s all I’ve got so far. I’m going to try to find the convent again and take a nap. I hope the place didn’t move to the other side of the city somehow, because I need sleep. I think I got jet lag.
By the way, I forgot to mention that Suare Maura, who I met last night, is a lady, some kind of nun, not a guy like I figured she would be. She did have a little mustache, and just for a second she caught me looking at it (I could tell), but a mustache doesn’t make a lady into a guy. Maybe I can write about Suare Maura after my nap, if I can find the place again first.
~ ~ ~
I still haven’t found the damn convent. Keep going in circles. Do you know that the Italian men here in Rome whistle at the girls and say lousy things to them like there’s no tomorrow? They don’t even do that in Deer Park. Not exactly. They just grunt, maybe.
I know I couldn’t whistle and make comments like that to women. That’s not right. But look who I’m writing to about what’s right.
~ ~ ~
I’m in a restaurant and think I know where the convent is now. I can’t believe I got lost twice in two days. Anyway, it’s past the Roman Coliseum, which I’m sick of passing. I ordered some spaghetti, which was served to me as linguini, and a whole pitcher of a drink. I think it’s beer but it doesn’t taste like it.
~ ~ ~
I thought I was going to fall in the Tiber River on the way back here to the convent because I couldn’t walk straight. First they gave me a whole pitcher when all I ordered was one beer. Then they didn’t tell me the tip was in the bill, so I paid two tips. I only figured it out in the middle of a stagger. I was so mad I yelled out, cursing like a madman toward the Coliseum. I guess it looked like I was screaming at the ruins, and people passing the other way were looking at me. Bunch of lousy busybodies. Hell with them. And the hell with you too, Jeanette, and tell Al the hell with him too. Two stinkers you are. Four including those thieving waiters at the restaurant.
Tomorrow I’m going to throw these letters in the Tiber River because I don’t know what the hell I’m writing to you for, you traitor.
P.S. A rooster here woke me up at 4 a.m. last night. If it wakes me up again tonight I’m going to find him (or her).
Aug. 10, Rome, Italy
I am on fire with my poetry writing. After the rooster woke me up I wrote a poem about him called “Elegy to a Rooster”. But then after Suare Maura gave me some coffee and cookies (she’s not evil like I thought she was at first), I sat down and wrote a bunch of other poems. One is called “Suare Maura”. Another one is called “My Flat Feet”.
The creative juices are flowing now that I’m in Italy and away from all the ignorant people in Deer Park. I don’t mean you, really, but Al for sure. Well, maybe you too. Here’s another poem before I go get lost in Rome again.
Has stolen my gal
She had a heart of gold
But now it is sold
She can keep him
As far as I’m concerned
And both of them to hell
Can go, and be burned.
Aug. 11, Milan, Italy
I have one of those train passes, by the way, that takes me anywhere I want to go in Europe, but I am only going as far as Zurich where my plane will take me home in a few more days.
Milan is a dark place. Everything shuts down between twelve and two, and even after that I could hardly find a place open to get something to eat or drink. Finally I walked into a place on a narrow stone road. There was an Italian girl there, and I guess her mother was there. They were both nice. I looked around and finally found water and some bread. Then the girl looked at me and said, “Basta?” I said, “Yeah, uh, basta.” And she laughed. What a smile and what eyes she has. Better than any eyes or smile I’ve ever seen in Deer Park. Half of the girls in Deer Park are so covered in make-up anyway that you’d need to use a pick to get at their regular faces. This girl has no make-up. Just beautiful skin and eyes. I bet she wouldn’t bowl with Al if someone paid her 100 lire.
“Girl in Milan”
What beautiful eyes you have
And what a sore spot I got
For a sweetie with a smile such as yours
In a store I can easily spot
From the street
And so, Sweet
May I see you again real soon
‘Cause if I don’t I’ll have to go back to stupid Deer Park
And howl at the moon
As you can see, Jeanette, this is not no ordinary girl, but a nice one. I’ll go back in the morning. Maybe she’ll come back to Deer Park with me. Or else I’ll stay in Milan. And be her slave. And live upstairs and slice bread all day and write poems to her.
August 12, a train on the way to Florence
Dear Woe is Me,
My heart is broke, but it is no fault of the Milan girl, who wasn’t there when I went back for breakfast. The whole store was closed down. I kept going back until after two and then at four, but the place stayed closed.
Maybe I’ll send her my poems. But right now I’m sitting on the train to Florence with a broken heart.
I stuffed all of the letters to Jeanette into my backpack, under my dirty socks, then wrote a fantasy poem called “Catapulting Jeanette into Deep Space”. But that didn’t even cheer me up. All I could think of was the Milan girl -probably hiding from me today, with those store gates down. So I’m stuck with myself now.
August 13, Venice
I lasted two hours in Florence. Couldn’t find a place to stay. Well, I did, but it was so noisy right outside my window, and all I wanted to do was sleep. So I went to the train station and waited around for the next train to Venice. It wasn’t until two in the morning, so I sat eating a candy bar out of a machine and reading USA Today, which I found a copy of.
Now I’m in a little hotel room, and very sleepy. I tried to sleep on the train but I was so scared someone would come in and steal my bag that I laid on it. It has my passport and plane ticket in it. And I’m running out of money. I didn’t bring as much as I should have.
Venice looked nice from the train when I first saw it, though. Wished it wasn’t just me seeing it, though. Jeanette could have been with me here instead of over there bowling with Al in Deer Park. I wouldn’t even mind living here except I can’t speak Italian and don’t know what job I would have. But maybe I could at least write my poems and try to sell them. All I’ve got at home is the job stocking shelves over there. Big whoop.
~ ~ ~
The maid just tried to beat my door down. I fell asleep and kept hearing knocking but I didn’t think it was at my door. Then I got up and opened it. It was the maid, all mad because she had to change the sheets. I guess I went up too early.
“Maid in Venice”
Oh maid in Venice, you are too mad
For no reason
If you were a guy
I would’ve cracked you over the head
With your cleaning fluid can
And sent you sprawling
Onto your can
And mopped you
Right out the door, far away from me
So I could sleep in peace
Don’t you see
August 14, Zurich, Switzerland
On the way to Zurich today I watched the Switzerland countryside. It was the most beautiful grass and trees and mountains I’ve ever seen. Little cottages, too. A beautiful girl on the train was sticking her head out of the train window and smiling as she looked at the hills. I could see her gorgeous blue eyes even from where I sat half a car away. Wow. Just wow. And she knew just when to pull her head back into the train just before the train reached a tunnel. I know if I stuck my own head out the window, even if the coast was perfectly clear, somehow a tunnel would appear and my head wouldn’t be attached now as I write this, and my hand would be flopping around useless and unable to hold a pen.
Some more poems I wrote on the train today were “Girl Stickin’ Her Head Out the Window on the Way to Zurich”; “Deer Park Is No Switzerland”; “Jeanette and Al In Hell”; “Basta? Yeah, Basta!”; and “The Conductor”.
The conductor of the train is always on the move
Even when people are noisy his stony face won’t crack a groove
A bomb could detonate right next to his head
And he wouldn’t even know that he was suddenly dead
He punches his tickets all day and makes the most of it
Be damned if I know how he stands it not to sit
~ ~ ~
It is later now. I tried to catch up and say hello to the Zurich girl, but she slipped away into the crowd somewhere. Maybe she was an angel.
It started pouring rain when I got to the station, so no one went outside yet, just waited inside or under the overhangs. I stood and watched people running in from the rain, laughing and smiling, all huddled next to each other, and I started smiling, too. And then I was laughing with them even though no one was next to me. Then I felt lonesome. Not for Jeanette. I’m not lonesome for her at all any more. Not for the toy store where I work either, or the crowd at the bowling alley, or any of my high school or other friends, or any other part of my life except for what’s missing from it. I stood there smiling with all those strangers, missing everything in life except for what was in it.
~ ~ ~
I’m in the hotel now and only have about twenty dollars and change left on me, including my plane ticket. Three days to go. On the way here I stood at a bus stop and talked a little to a Japanese girl and her family. They were very nice. They were on their way out to dinner. I asked them if I could come too but they said no, very politely and shyly. Not mean. Not like Jeanette would have, like “Get lost, Creep!” Not like that. No, they just smiled and shook their heads and said it was nice to meet me but they’d already made reservations. Just a very nice polite way of telling me to get lost.
“Japanese Family Saying No To Me at a Bus Stop In Zurich”
They didn’t bow low
They didn’t say no
They didn’t say “Go!”
They just smiled real slow
They said sorry but we have to go
Nice to’ve met you, don’t you know
I bought peanut butter and crackers from the supermarket today, the cheapest food I could find. Maybe it will last me until tomorrow when I leave. I still need money to call someone to pick me up at the airport. Maybe Uncle Tommy. Lucky I can eat for free on the plane. I think.
I walked all over Zurich and then went into a restaurant and ordered some coffee. They wanted to charge me five dollars for one cup. I told them I didn’t want it after all because it was too much, but the guy behind the bar said to pay up anyway. I got mad and said no way, it’s too much, and started to leave. Then a guy near the door got up from a table and spun me around to go back and get my coffee and pay up. I got madder and started to walk to the door, but he came after me. That’s when I got really nervous and pushed at him, and then he slugged me, hard, in the face. Right between the eye and my nose, on the side. Two other guys came and pushed me out the door.
I kept feeling my face all the way back to the hotel, but I realized I didn’t have to pay after all, so I was laughing about it----but still wanting to cry at the same time. When I got to the hotel the girl at the desk (another beauty!) was very concerned and took me to the back of the hotel restaurant and put a frozen bag of mixed vegetables on it. She said it always did the trick and should make the black eye go away in about three or four weeks. I told her what happened and she gave me a cup of coffee on the house, and then one to go. The free coffee, not having to pay the five bucks, and her pretty eyes were worth the slug in the face. Made me look tough, too, after I got to look in the mirror upstairs. If anyone asks me at home how I got it, I’ll tell them I fell out of the plane.
August 17 Zurich
I wrote a few more poems last night. They are called “My Black Eye”; “My Dime Sized Bald Spot”; “Al Walks into the Wrong Alley” (narrative poem); and “The Girl with the Frozen Mixed Vegetables” (love poem).
Same day (see above) Airport---Zurich
My last morning in Italy and Switzerland…I said bye to the girl at the desk and vowed to return next year without a black eye and show her all my poems. She said it would be wonderful to see them. I kind of backed away from her, smiling, as I left, not wanting her to get a peek at my new bald spot and change her mind about me. Anyway, I’m only twenty-five, so it will probably grow back by next year. Could be a jet lag side effect or something.
I took the long walk to the airport and bought two candy bars to last me the wait. I’m lucky I didn’t pay for that coffee because I have only five bucks left, not to mention a black eye, a two-timing ex-girlfriend back home, and a tiny little bald spot that had better not get any bigger.
I have to go back to work in two days, too, back to that boring toy store serving customers for eight hours. So life pretty much stinks.
But I got to write some poems. And I think I’m getting better at it. And I met some nice people, especially those girls in Milan and Zurich and Zurich and Zurich. And maybe someday I’ll not be missing so many things that I might not do, and so many people I might never meet. Like now.
Originally appeared in The Ear Hustler, April, 2011