Web Exclusive #2:

Web Exclusive #2: Poetry by Ray Brown
More Bars than Anyplace Else

“No one has more bars than us”
broadcast the billboard
on Route 18 in New Brunswick, NJ,
which initially I thought
had to be a promotion
of the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce.
Old haunts of Hoboken.
A bar on every corner
the natives knew the name of each
hard working Germans, Irish, Italians, Yugoslavs
spent the hours after the shift whistle blew
tipping beers, watching the end of the Yankee’s game
on fuzzy black-and-white screens
ogling the waitresses
and worse.
Then as night fell in the streets
they had sense enough to go home
to build strength for the next day’s work–
or found young sons
sent to the taverns by mothers
whose dinners were cooling on the table.
First the jobs went.
Then the Longshoreman followed.
Then the barstools stood eerily empty,
only an occasional traveling Fuller brush salesman
trying to swallow his pride
along with his Scotch.
Selling brushes was an important job — but was not work,
real work was something a man did with his hands.
Then they decided the bars should go the way
of the working man.
Slink into oblivion.
So the lawyers were unleashed
bartenders designated diagnosticians
Replace the customers’ mothers
and shoo the patrons away
when they had had too much.
Young sons could no longer be sent to the bar
to make the dinner call.
They were in school — building character
through organized sports, singing in the choir
playing the tuba in the marching band
not home tinkering in the wooden cubicled basements
of the Hoboken tenements.
So the bars closed.
The yuppies moved in.
They renamed the bars taverns
and put fancy prices and names on the drinks
martinis named after insects
and fruit
weak sugarcoated alcohol
carrying not too oblique, sexually suggestive names
– bangers
– in between the sheets
– naked ladies
– and the names of bras and panties.
The docks replaced with office towers
–          and condominiums.
No one knew if the money was real
the computers exchanged it, no one saw it.
Inside the packed bars
they held cell phone to their ears,
or kept little earpieces on all evening
as they finessed each other
and tried to seduce a trip to childless loafs.
No families to support
just habits.
Each looked–
as they entered a new establishment
for how many bars the cell phone bore,
not realizing that in Hoboken
they need not look far–
since there has always been
a bar on every corner–
more bars than anyplace else.

Frenchtown, NJ

I remember the yellow and gold mums
that adorned the mothers’ sweaters
in those autumn days of the early 60s
when football games were played in the sunlight
on a Saturday afternoon.
Times were more casual,
although the games just as intense.
Then they were known as
the Delaware Valley Regional High School Terriers.
40 years later, Terriers are not
an aggressive enough mascot –
so now they call themselves “the dogs.”
Then, mums told all there was to say
about a mother’s pride
a sense of loyalty to the hometown
how beauty was displayed in simplicity,
and wearing flowers at a football game
was still touching.
They were all there, in the bleachers,
the day when Rick Jones had his concussion.
He got kicked in the head
tackling the fullback
for South Hunterdon Regional High School
on Thanksgiving Day.
The mothers gasped,
as he lay so motionless on the field.
Then applauded
as he walked off in a daze
to wander the sidelines.
The whole group consoled Mrs. Long
the sorority of strong women
there for their children,
not because they particularly liked football.
The next morning, a floral arrangement
arrived at Fran Long’s home
just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
This one had the yellow and gold school colors,
but also had the deep crimson and white
the pinks and oranges,
and the little yellow popcorn mums
to fill in between.
Fran was touched by this all.
And now – 40 years after Rick’s passing
she tends her bed of mums
on the hillside near her driveway entrance.
She has not been back to a football game since.
Today new lights from the field,
blaze and announce the Friday night games –
she lives close enough to hear the crowd roar
after each good tackle,
as they first cheered, then grew eerily silent
after Rick’s.
She knows some young high school girls
undoubtedly still wear the mums
since she finds her yellows and golds,
missing from the hillside garden on Saturday mornings,
plucked at the base
by high school boys
who stop quickly after school
and furtively snips a stem or two
on the afternoon before the Friday night game.
When she notices, she is not upset.
She smiles but a wry little smile.
Ricky, she images, would have done the same  –
stopped quickly at someone’s Mum garden
clipped a few without asking –
as he was driving past
in his 66 Chevy Impala
on the day before the ’67 Thanksgiving game.

Ray Brown’s first collection of poetry, I Have His Letters Still, will be published in June. A graduate of University of Notre Dame and Rutgers University, his work has appeared in 13th Annual Poetry Ink Chapbook; The Star-Ledger; NJ Lawyer Magazine; he’s received a NJ Poetry Society 2009 Recognition Award, and will be published in upcoming volumes of the Edison Literary Review, the Big Hammer, FreeXpresSion, and River Poets Journal. Several of his poems have been published on-line as “Poem of the Day,” by The New Verse News. Visit his poetry blog: http://raybrown.wordpress.com.

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