By: Frank C Modica
The Shovel Man
after Carl Sandburg
Every summer Grandpa worked magic
in his backyard garden with a shovel in hand.
He loved spading dirt over newly seeded beds,
setting poles for string beans, sharing the bounty with his family.
In his youth, he was always tiling farm fields with a battered shovel
to pay his monthly tithe to the Church in Sicily, scraps left for him,
the only healthy people he saw were priests and monks.
He fled to America because he was starving, he had no future.
In Chicago, more grinding poverty. He became a shovel man, a dago
building a railroad overpass, a story he never shared with his grandchildren.
On weekly trips to Grandpa’s place my brother and I passed
under the tons of dirt, rock and concrete, his monument.
Mom told us how Grandpa helped build it. We’d enter
a long dark tunnel, smell the damp, feel the cold oppression
of the freight trains and trucks over our heads.
We feared those weekly eclipses, sighed with relief
every time we came out at the end into the sunshine,
sighed again because we didn’t have to shoulder his shovel.
Valentine’s Day rains
coat tree limbs with a fine mist
that radiate a soft light
like silver Tiffany necklaces.
My wife and I go to bed
before the temperature drops,
sleep undisturbed until cracking sounds
like concussive gunshot blasts shake us out of bed.
I stumble outside to hefty branches
strewn across the yard, heard oak trees scream
as branches snap overhead.
Ice shatters like broken glass
among the scattered tree limbs and electrical wires.
My wife stands in the doorway, cold and unsure.
Shaken, hoping to rescue a slender birch sapling
I snatch a beat-up putter out of my golf bag,
tap frozen branches to knock loose layers of leaden glaze.
My two hands reach up high in the branches,
clasp the metal shaft almost in prayer–
at least something was saved.
The Valor of My Tongue
A meteor streaks above the autumn horizon,
like an angel falling from the skies.
I’m glad it isn’t Halley’s Comet,
a predictable celestial omen,
harbinger of catastrophes and upheavals
we don’t need it on our polarized planet.
That rock of cosmic ice flies by every 75 years
and I survived its last coming
I’m not sure I’ll survive five more decades
on this hate-filled world.
I hope I become wiser;
speak with compassionate words to mend
the wounds of a broken community.
I try to pray for my enemies, even
put in a kind word for the president,
I wish the milk of human kindness
would flow through my veins,
sweeten my speech.
but what can I do when my mouth
twists around the syllables, stops short
of a convincing intercession?
I don’t want to become what I despise.