John L. Stanizzi
The poems in this issue are from my manuscript in progress called Sundowning, the term given to the marked anxiety that Alzheimer's patients begin to feel every day as late afternoon approaches. My father lost his 10 year battle with Alzheimer's in 2011. Poems about his struggle have found their way into my last two books.
At my mother’s request I am here to help
my father with his special recipe
of chicken cutlets dredged in eggs and breadcrumbs
and fried in extra virgin olive oil
and cloves of garlic bigger than my thumbs.
My father has forgotten what to do
which isn’t really what the problem is;
the problem is that he doesn’t know
that he doesn’t know.
Today in place of oil he uses water,
eliminates the eggs entirely,
flops the chicken pieces in a bowl of flour,
and drops them into the high rolling boil.
He becomes annoyed as the water fills with lumps,
blames the mess on the faulty stove, the meat,
the flour which isn’t as good as it used to be,
and my mother says Maybe you can help?
And so we’re in the kitchen cooking together,
though my father is distracted, fidgets with some toys –
a stuffed squirrel, a plastic army man,
the pieces of a puzzle he cannot do.
So I forge on and follow his recipe,
which begins with turning the burner up to high.
The kitchen fills with the scent of garlic,
as each slab of chicken, nearly burned,
just this side of black, is stacked upon
a paper towel that lines a dinner plate.
Smoke rises, and the smoke detector
screeches in the hall, that shrill alarm, that call.
Fan the thing with these and it’ll stop,
he says, handing me a flimsy paper plate.
And here we are, a pair of awkward birds,
one-winged lunkers bound to earth and flapping
at the plastic box on the wall near the kitchen door,
but the smoke detector, crazed ventriloquist,
sounds to me as if it’s down the hall
I let it slide, thinking that he must know,
he does this all the time, this man who pushes
puzzle pieces around and cooks on high.
In a moment, over the frantic fanning
I hear him say, Johnnie, we’re fanning the doorbell.
The smoke detector’s down at the end of the hall,
and we laugh like a couple of kids in church,
at this bit of clarity, like a vestige of smoke,
oily and invisible, something he can taste
against his teeth when he rubs them with his tongue,
while down the hall the smoke detector keens.
I'll Take You There
For Jim Mercik and for my father, Giovanirro Emmanuele Stanizzi
…now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.
2 Kings 3:15
Jimmy asks, How many times have you gone
to your father’s grave, and I answer, None.
He says I go. I go and play music.
It’s 20 degrees but I have made a
fire that burns so hot we’re only dressed
in sweatshirts. Outside the fire the air
is black and cold, an invisible place
bitter and dark, and though we’re warm enough
an iciness leans on our lower backs
reminding us that as hot as the fire
is in front of us, behind our backs there
is a frigidness as unwelcomed as
an old enemy come to poke a wound
that festers but will never ever heal.
We drink. Smoke. Jimmy says, Know what I play?
I say, No. He says, What is the last song
Joe Strummer put on ‘Global A-Go Go?’
Minstrel Boy, I say. Minstrel Boy, he says.
The fire is really stoked now and my
knees are so hot I have to move my chair
up against the frozen and blackened night
which reminds me that we can’t stay for long.
I know why you don’t go, he says. I say,
I know why I don’t go, too. And then we
stop talking. Drink a little. Smoke our stogs.
And I think to myself that if Jesus
places his hand on the shoulder of the
minstrel as he plays, then Jimmy doesn’t
need me to make his playing more divine.
I play it on an old penny whistle,
he tells me. Man, it’s fucking beautiful.
I’ll bring you there some day, the two of us.
and instead of ruining things with truth,
I say, Listen man, you three don’t need me.
You’ve got it covered. You and your whistle.
Jesus with his hand upon your shoulder,
and my father a captive audience.
©2016 John L. Stanizzi
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