Windshield wipers slapping back and forth, Murph’s Celebrity Sedan
Hugged the curve as it sped onto the Edison Bridge, Super 88 four barrel
High Compression 394 Rocket V8, Roto Hydro-matic transmission, Power Steering,
Pedal-eeze Power Brakes, the rolling black cylinder speedometer
Flashing green, yellow and red, holding steady at 65 mph, midnight blue frame
Encasing me in terror, where I remain still, sleeping or awake
When I conjure that ride across that old deck plate and girder bridge
With its big hump in the middle, all 29 spans, the muddy Raritan 135 feet below,
Murph’s foot to the floor as he wove through the pack, growling
Imprecations, outraged by the pace of the rest of the world, frantic
To get nowhere in particular except in the early a.m. on the GW Bridge
Dropping me off at the IRT on 168th then heading downtown to his taxi place.
He was at his best, or worst (‘wurst’, he would have said), in that meat-grinder,
A heavy-lidded Steve McQueen gone to seed, bald, paunch, sporty double-knit
Casual-wear of an indeterminate era, banging on his Roto-matic steering wheel.
– So who’s that little broad with the freckles and orange hair?
(Lord God-Lady, forgive me, forgive Murph: Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn,
Born the same day as that misfortune with the Arch-Duke, right?)
– Maxine, I say. – Are you doing her? – Christ, Murph, I’m only 14!
This plainly displeased him. You could say Murph was my unofficial guardian,
The Jack Teagarden to my Stan Getz, sans horns, a somewhat unsavory coupling,
And one not without implications down the road …
But you can imagine how purgatorial, that rolling, rackety, fitful journey uptown
After the 25 minutes pinned back in the death seat beside Murph,
Taking in the world, at speed, the river beneath, always trying to beat his record,
With me beside him in that self-same seat, the blur of tail fins, cables, sky
Through that curvilinear windshield, across bridges for the most part, but not just.
Every year Murph would flip cars, trading in the 88 for a 98 Custom Sports Coup,
345 horsepower Starface engine, dual rear cigarette lighters, leather interior.
Malcolm X drove the very same car, before things went south with Elijah M.
Hard to imagine Murph and Malcolm would have much to say to one another.
No matter where we were – Anchorage, the Azores – Murph had the radio on.
Sports mostly, we’d talk sports, but the news too. Murph hated Robert Kennedy.
Murph said he’d win because he made ‘all the broads cream in their jeans.’
Dad hated Kennedy too, all of ’em, Poppa Joe to his toothy, roguering whelps.
But Dad loved Murph, and Murph loved Dad. That’s why he let Murph drive me.
One day Murph brought Dad back a baby alligator from Miami.
– Whadayawant from Florida, Marv? Murph asked. – An alligator, Dad said.
Mother wasn’t happy. She put the little reptile behind the fridge hydrator
And fed it bits of raw hamburger until one day it escaped and bit the dog’s nose,
Bit it bad so it never looked quite right again. That was that for the alligator.
But Murph, he seemed to like the General Casimir Pulaski Skyway best,
A steel truss cantilevered affair, a monstrous Erector Set from Hell,
The Meadowlands and railyards below, Hoffa’s bones likely somewhere near.
Any excuse. He’d blast past the Budweiser sign and drop me at the heliport,
Then head down to Bayonne for a round of pinochle with his old rag trade pals
In a cloud of cigar smoke, going through the booty ‘what fell off a truck’.
– I got a Sylvania 9000 AM/FM, Marv, fell off a truck, $22, can’t beat the price.
He’d try to best 28 minutes crossing the Pulaski, the GW record was 12 and some,
No small feat along that bottle-necked death trap. Oh, I ride with Murph still,
Across the Verrazzano to the family grave plots, the Brooklyn Bridge, where once,
Halfway across, he asks, out of the blue – Howz the poetry game treating you?
Then, in that old-timey, low-rent Flatbush accent, starts declaiming:
Through the bound cable strands, the arching path/Upward, veering with light …
I’m talking the first three stanzas … The loft of vision, palladium helm of stars.
I could never figure out how he pulled that one out of the air, to this very day.
The Lions Gate, the Seven Mile Bridge across the Keys, and even further afield:
Crossing Lake Maracaibo on the General Rafael Urdaneta, the Akashi – Kaikyo …
He’s still there beside me, roaring across the Lupu, Bloukrans, Oresund:
– Check out the knockers on that broad. It’s a wonder she don’t tilt right over.
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