Poetry by Michael Juliani

Night Walk Maelstrom

Wind pushes a coat of gasoline
past me, the sky

yellowed by thunderstorms
ten miles upstate.

It might as well be 1994
or before I was even born.

I see my father racing down
this perishing,
             church-framed street,
the delusion
of a man in flames, begging

the doormen to study his face
and tell him where to find me.

It’s been ten years
since we spoke, and five
since I saw him

standing outside the house
when I was the only one awake.

I’m watching him now,
although he doesn’t see me;

three thousand miles east in the night,

where doormen grim
and motionless in the rain
always nod

but never say a word. 

Shooting Free Throws After the Parent-Teacher Conference

I wish I could say we live
in a demilitarized zone.

I wish I knew a ball turret gunner
to invite to class.

Anyone here have a passion for the Holocaust?

For the Sioux Indians?

For World War Two newspaper headlines in general?

My dad was a pilot.

My dad was a terrorist.

My dad goes running when I get home from school.

Days of 1999

            My father, standing in our driveway, pulls a plastic football helmet down over my head.
            My father would rather be doing this than anything.
            He would rather be doing this than sitting inside at the kitchen table with my mother and grandmother, or folding his t-shirts and socks in the plum quiet of the master bedroom. The spackle smears and the white bed sheets—and the light switch turned off.
            He would rather be alone with me or by himself.
            The helmet fit me at the store. I was bought a whole replica John Elway uniform, helmet, jersey, pads, pants, and socks. I wear my baseball cleats on bottom. Everything fits now except the helmet, and I won’t stop telling him about it, how I want this one to fit, not any new one from the store.
            The magnolia growing from the center of our lawn holds seedpods that pop on the cement driveway. When they hit the lawn they thud and indent the grass. It sounds like the baseball that I throw up and down on my bedroom floor when it hits the carpet.
            My father knows what all the trees are called. He knows the names of hundreds of men who died in the Civil War. He talks to me mostly about Bach and Mozart, people he works with who have framed posters of Bach and Mozart, of pianos he got to play in other people’s houses.
            My father would rather be running in the woods, playing chess with a stranger, shaking hands with the oboist who lives around the corner.
            Throwing a football as hard as he can into the sky.
            Yelling for me to catch it. 
            My father pulls the helmet over my ears and asks if they burn after being exposed to the cold. My mother and grandmother give first warning from the blind bay windows that dinner will soon be ready. My grandfather has turned on a college basketball game on the living room TV that dances in flashes of white and blue through the glass at the edge of the house.
            In the cold, my father has worn less than necessary on purpose. He has quoted to me: Douglas MacArthur; Hey Arnold; and the man from the store.
            My father would rather do this than eat.
            After dinner we will go back outside, try to play catch as long as possible through the dim brown light and mosquitos. My mother and grandmother will join my grandfather in the living room, and fall asleep before the game ends, letting the TV change to late-night talk shows then infomercials and hours of public programming.
            My father and I will stop playing catch when it’s no longer possible to see and we’ll walk up and down the middle of the street so many times I’ll lose count. We’ll run to opposite sidewalks.
            My father would rather do this than sleep.

Michael Juliani is a poet, editor and writer from South Pasadena, California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in outlets such as Washington Square Review, LA Review of Books, BOMB, Los Angeles Times, and the Adirondack Review

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