Two Salesmen

(Sunday Night, fall 1961)

“Work hard,” my uncle Harold says
“and you’ll get somewhere, boy”
and my father nods his head
of black curly hair.
With drinks cradled in their hands
they sit side by side
on two throne-shaped swivel
chairs, staring at the small black
screen set in the tan console,
carved wood doors
pinned back against blond wood.

Harold sips the scotch
slowly, but my father drinks it down
then rattles the ice in his glass.
I sit on the carpet in front of them
playing solitaire Vegas-style
while they repeat the same stories,
how Galvani made a fortune
in Houston, how Klein’s went
under because of bad management,
how Challoff declared bankruptcy
but not before he put away
“a pretty penny” for himself.

“I lost a 25,000-piece order,”
my father says, “because Henry
couldn’t ship it on time.”
“That’s crazy.” Harold’s clipped
thick mustache tickles his
long hawkish nose
whenever he smiles or laughs.
He can make a quarter disappear
from his hands and pull it out
from behind my ear. He can shuffle
a deck in one hand
and turn over an ace of spades
anytime he wants to. I tell him
I’ve gone out twice in a row.
“Amazing,” he says,
but my father looks down at me
with his sad tired eyes.
“Quit cheating—play it right.”

Outside the wind tears at the trees
and fading red and gold,
the leaves tumble in a shower of leaves
and one more fall passes.
The wasps curl in their white
paper house shaped
like a large beautiful shell.

And the cedar bushes bunch
together like broccoli. In fall
my father died in a car accident
practically penniless
and my uncle went to sleep
forever in a hotel room
hundreds of miles from home,
staring at a picture of the sea
and three white gulls frozen on the shore.

“Work hard,” Harold says
and my father nods his assent
cracking the ice between his teeth
while I cheat at solitaire
pulling a card from the bottom
of the deck when I need it
to keep my run going.
The swivel chairs squeak
and groan as my father and uncle
lean together and whisper
their plans to make it big.
Then they toast each other and touch
the empty glasses to their lips.