Queens Vision, 1983

Somewhere in the bowels of Queens with my crazy second wife,
driving to meet her Grandpa. The insane traffic last night,
some kind of Puerto Rican parade, and her brother,
who’s recently found God, in the car with us
shouting out the window, “Jesus is Lord, baby! ”

Cup with discus thrower on it - Queens Vision 1983Today sunny and quiet, the regular rhythm
of the New York streets: bagel and pizza shops,
pedestrians, trees, subway entrances and delis
that serve your coffee in those blue discus-thrower cups.

Parking, we walk up the stairs
in an ordinary brown, brick building.
An old, thin man with glasses sits in an easy chair,
a devout Catholic, Cindy’s told me.

She goes to do some straightening.
For an hour he and I talk
of the Yankees and St. Francis,
and how he worked in the shipyards
and went to church all his life.

A mind at peace, I realize.
He smiles, looking inward
with few regrets, then back at me.
The room seems brighter than it was.

Cindy returns. The three of us
talk more. As we leave,
I look around
to try to discover
why it feels as if
we’ve visited a shrine.

He smiles at me again.
Not “a sign”: holiness
can be so ordinary;
but it’s him.

Out on the street
we walk toward the car.
I turn around for one more look
at the building. Two trees in front
shed their red and golden leaves.
A couple strolls by on the sidewalk.

The building looks anything
but ordinary now.
A subtle glow suffuses it.
Silence seems to swallow
traffic noises.

Time itself has stopped
here on a New York street,
to pay homage to
the aged man up there
whose body will soon fall
like the leaves on those trees.

’50s Parents

Too easy a target,
and yet, that’s our legacy!

Max Reif's father in the 1950s - Poems by Max Reif

Those silly names
for body parts
and functions—
“toosie,” a pillow
strapped to your backside.
“Number One” and “Number Two,”
or even “Tu-Tu” and “Fu-Fu,”
(Chinese twins?) which
I also heard once,
back before “poop” and “pee”
became universal currency.

But everything
was like that. We lived
on the one hand
sanitarily wrapped in
separate airtight containers,
and on the other,
swimming in
collective family soup
that seeped through
the cracks of all
private domains.

“They never talked to us”:

Well, the world faced
in a different direction.
Nobody knew, least of all these
people with immigrant forbears,
starting lives after World War II
believing all they’d been told:
Automation will solve your problems.
The schools will raise your children.
It’s important to get ahead.

Ah, dreaming the American dream.
Sweet dream. Now,

time to wake up.


Bowl of soup - Poems by Max ReifThis afternoon
when I made the soup,
I felt tired the whole time.
Later when I served it,
everyone fell asleep
at the table.

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image 1: saccodent (Creative Commons BY); images 2-4: Max Reif