In the Heat of an Empire Night

Back in Summer 1963,
I believed we all breathe the same air –
JFK’s kids, Lawrence Welk’s orchestra, the Politburo,
Hayley Mills, Leave it to Beaver, Sonny Liston;
the same oxygen as a Fowler & Williams Trucking Co. clerk
who cut my father’s weekly paycheck,
the air entering into the pretty girl’s lungs
who stood patiently in-line for a hot fudge sundae
at a Dairy Dan ice cream van-window.

Dairy Dan‘s carnival music repeated like a scratched LP,
air humid & dead, mother Mary out-back.
Daily she wore that embarrassing soiled babushka,
hung clothes on rope, whites treated with Clorox went first,
neighbors snickered, she waited for cool breeze,
wondered if we’d ever get money like Chompko family,
wondered if we’d ever have dough to buy Congressmen,
buy a “blow-up” swimming pool, rest swollen feet –
breathe easier someday?
She looked old now since bearing me,
better try & escape her gaze?

“Damn you…, Chuck, you bought a $1.75 banana split?
When will you ever learn?
There’s something wrong in this here town;
others ain’t breathing same air we breathe,
there’s rarer kinds of air,
& we’re just tryin’ to make-do.”

My heart leapt, said nothing, & in Mary did I trust.
Beautiful sun-rays melted vanilla ice cream,
strawberry topping dripped upon my white T-shirt.
I missed Wyalusing Rock’s cool air an hour away,
an air which would never dare melt a banana split
Bastard heat! maybe one day I’d get outta here,
move to Wyalusing, like Queen Marie Antoinette
& husband tried back in 18th Century?

The French Queen was pretty they say,
she had special airs about her,
and wealthy Philadelphia Frenchmen planned
to get Marie Antoinette safely across Atlantic,
move her upstream on Susquehanna River, the Azilum.
Was shameful her head had to be chopped-off
by angry people who breathe different air,
couldn’t afford food, let alone banana splits.
A poet said he’s frightened about what’s in air,
Marie, Marie hold on tight, and down she went.”1
Did executioners feel the Queen’s last gush of air?
French Banks quickly acted, cut Marie’s pension check.
Austerity in Wyalusing Township air, Summer 2012 –
Marcellus Shale natural gas wells ‘a pumping,
“good paying jobs on horizon,”
and one day I shall meet a Queen,
settle into Azilum stillness, get my wind back,
eat Dairy Dan ice cream ’til obesity do I part.

  1. I love T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” for reasons strange and revelatory which one rarely figures-out, but affection never wears-out. Maybe Mr. Eliot’s Marie made it on her Lewis Carroll-ride to the bottom of the mountain? The poet said, “there you feel free.” And here we are taught freedom is reached at mountaintops. []

Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pa. He can be reached at: orlovzek13@al.com. Read other articles by Charles.