After Dad’s hat frame factory—
fragile as bone china—splattered
like cheap crockery, Grandpa shouted:
“You screwed up, Sol!
If you hadn’t been in such a hurry
to push me into retirement,
I could’ve saved the business.
But no, you and Harry thought
you had all the answers.”
While his fists punched the air,
I wanted to shout Grandpa hadn’t kept up
with orders, sent the delivery man
to wrong addresses, gave contradictory
instructions to blockers and finishers,
while Dad had worked competent
and patient as a spider at its web,
though he’d got caught in it, when ladies
stopped buying fancy chapeaus,
and Harry ran off with the payroll
and a frolicky finisher. and left
his wife in shrieking destitution.
Dad a shamed suspect, until Mom held up
a hand like a traffic cop, and in a voice
you had to lean closer to hear, said,
“That’s enough. Blame the times.
Blame Harry, for a drunken thief,
but don’t you dare blame my husband.”
The room grew so still I could hear
the planet creaking on its axis:
all of us frozen, until Mom nudged me
out the door and told me to go play.
Not as in the mafia buying
into a legitimate business;
but as in two friends ironing
wrinkles out of hundred dollar bills
ahead of their trip to Myanmar.
Two lovers of the tropics: they’ll trek
in steam-fecund national parks,
visit holy Buddhist shrines, walk
exotic cities, and relax at a resort
in a lake reached only by boat.
All of that costs money,
and not a business in the country
accepts credit cards or has ATM’s,
and merchants will take only
hundred dollar bills less blemished
than the faces of super models, crisp
as the uniforms of the junta’s elite.
Any crease, any stamp or ink-writing,
any crimp or smudge, and the Franklins
will be tossed back like fingerling trout.
So El has spent all night laundering bills:
merchants and generals with their hands out.