Wednesday, January 21, 2015

This is the House That Jack Built

Jack was a carpenter.
Born in Italy,
he came to America in 1910,
and for twenty years
he built waterfront vacation houses
on Cape Ann for wealthy Bostonians.
He died of a stroke on his 46th birthday,
and all that’s left of him are a few houses
and a fading black & white photograph
in a box in an attic in Marblehead.

Jack was a cook.
Born in Pennsylvania, he served
with the 28th Infantry Division
during the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2,
and all through that battle he never heard
the roar of bullets and bombs,
only the clatter of pots and pans.
And even though as the years went by
his friends all told him-
"Don't worry about it!
Napoleon said an army travels
on its stomach”,
he always felt guilty
and a little embarrassed,
and would never talk about
what he did in the war
as he sat on his barstool at the VFW.

Jackie grew up on a farm
in western Massachusetts.
She and her husband Peter
ran a greenhouse
in Brattleboro, Vermont
where they raised orchids
for upscale florists and hotels
in New York City.
The day that Peter died of a heroin overdose
Jackie sat alone in the greenhouse
all afternoon,
listening to water drip from the pipes,
and then she got up,
and went back to packing boxes of flowers.

Jack was a truck driver
from New Hampshire.
He drove tankers
filled with unknown chemicals
around New England for thirty years,
and then his hair and toenails
started falling out,
he had trouble breathing,
and he died in a small motel room
in Nashua, New Hampshire,
surrounded by no one.

Jackie was a waitress from Queens.
She waited tables every night
at a fancy French restaurant in Manhattan,
and three times a week
the maitre d’ would bend her over a box
in the walk-in freezer
and screw her,
and she never said anything,
because she was determined
that she was going to put
her two kids through college.

Jack was a firefighter from Boston.
He rode the hook and ladder truck
for twenty-two years,
and he played the dog races in Revere
every weekend,
and raised four kids,
and 15 grandkids,
and never regretted anything.

Jack was a sanitation worker
from New Jersey; he hauled
barrels of trash in Hoboken,
and every night he went back,
alone, to his one-bedroom,
walk-up apartment
and wrote poetry and short stories.
The day after he died
the landlord took it all,
and stuffed it into plastic bags
and put the bags out on the curb
for the trash men.

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