The family’s degradation, some Yonkers folks said, was like
the Nepperhan river’s, how
over the years it slowly disappeared, turning into
a foul stream winding
unseen under city pavement.
No one decision caused it, decades of them did.
By the early 1950s, nothing
-- word of the new Levittown, Dogwood in the comics, rising church attendance --
stopped locals from noticing
something was wrong.
A person might be eating a hotdog at the trotters
or someone else punching out at Waring Hat
and suddenly they’d sneak a scornful peak at somebody near them.
It was the smell
that made them do it, they swore, the menses
that hadn’t been properly absorbed
or the shirt worn too many days
or something similar.
The right way to pray was part of the problem, too.
Carmelita, for instance, wouldn’t contemplate where the boy
she’d given up for adoption knelt now or in what style
-- Greek Orthodox, Mormon, what? --
because the possibilities frightened her too much. Meanwhile
the boy, already at 13
smoking Camels in between innings while playing right field
for a sandlot team, visualized a destiny
in which kneeling in prayer didn’t cut it
unless you were begging a cop for your life. Then
there were the problems created by
Ellen’s husband, a foreigner
who besides being a mixture of infidel and charmer
was also darker than most and prayed
with his face on the ground. An outgoing man,
at family functions everyone who spoke with him
felt happy and wanted to run for cover at the same time. Still
the zither records he sometimes played grew on them
and a few of his friends, in spite of their abnormal craving for the taste
of cassia bark in homemade chicken pies, were tolerable
if you gave them a chance.
Nonetheless, the issue of bloodlines
and the Nepperhan river was never forgotten.
Robert Bohm is a poet and culture writer. He was born in Queens, New York. His 2007 Uz Um War Moan Ode is available from Pudding House Press. Other credits include two other books, a chapbook and work published in a variety of print and online publications. More information on Bohm's work can be found at his blog, Lethal Injections for the Conditioned Mind, and his website, Unburials: The Writer as Graverobber. Click here for a selection of online publications from the last few years.