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Pier Giorgio Di Cicco (1949-)

God and the Fifties


              1It was shady deals and
              2Connie Francis on jukebox
              3junipers and chevy convertibles
              4parked outside Dino's restaurant;
              5it was brighter skies, manageable
              6skyscrapers, gang-fights and Kennedy;
              7it was gambling at Atlantic City with
              8the Four Seasons, it was crabs and
              9Johnny Unitas and Connie Arena who
            10teased my heart through ten school
            11years, her father practicing race-track
            12cornet every day driving us nuts on
            13such bored summers of tee-shirts
            14with cigarette packs at the sleeve and
            15Beachboys and weights.

            16It was romance, people taking
            17Peyton Place seriously, of miniature golf
            18and trampolines, of barbecuing with the
            19mob on Chesapeake Bay, of drums and
            20Brylcream and hairspray and the
            21scents of night in parked cars and alleyways.

            22It was the girls I never had and did have,
            23and Ben Hur at the Paramount, Rome Adventure
            24at the Patterson, Sandra Dee walking
            25around everywhere, and Frankie and Dion,
            26it was October skies falling
            27with promise and spring like an unhatched
            28easter egg, Christmas with train-sets out of Ideal
            29magazine, Nat Cole singing White Christmas

            30ending gang-fights and hits for the night.
            31It was sneaking out to a night of
            32tire screech and bushes and hushed love.
            33Of holding hands forever until time whacked you
            34in the back of the head, time, the real ruffian,
            35not Butch, not the Dundalk boys, but time, that guy
            36who said we had forever to comb our bangs and
            37get the Orioles tickets and cruise the Fatima dance;
            38it was time. It was time beyond waiting for your date
            39and plotting the jump on suckers, and waiting for
            40three o-clock school bells. It was time like a foreign
            41animal that killed us.

            42But there was God too, beyond the maverick
            43and the delinquent, the crazy, the dice, the
            44fighting, the lunacy of girls behind the bowling alley,
            45under the fabric of fat ladies in salons and stevedores,
            46and black vendors at Fell's Point; inside the dance of
            47music of the Rat Pack and the myths of Liberty Bells
            48and Camelot and Sun Valley and Niagara moons,
            49and death arriving at Johns Hopkins and bocce balls
            50on August nights in the mesh of living, the haphazard
            51desperate living, to satisfy, to have, to love, to hold
            52your dream to the words of your favourite song, there
            53was this God, holding the foreign animal back, holding him
            54by his heels, holding him back from
            55the kisses of Vivian, holding him back, holding him
            56back from the good and the bad, God and his
            57inimitable good nature, leaving us with illusion,
            58that grandest of gifts, the illusion of everything
            59like the taste of a candy-apple.

            60It was that, the rich, confused, carnival feel
            61of rooms that were scary and perfumed, and it was
            62something any real God would have given us and we took it
            63in stride, and sang him easter songs and
            64carols and went on living.

            65We took nothing seriously,
            66and he wanted it that way, the God we had,
            67talking in chrome glint and pastels and
            68sunsets that had lyrics.
            69It was the sense of that, of a juggler who
            70dropped a ball and laughed, of a father
            71whose business was letting us out.

            72There was this God,
            73and shady deals and Fabian,
            74and terror in the schoolyard and things we
            75later called scars but were like the
            76Colorado River carving the heart.
            77There was this God
            78who saw romance in the meanest efforts
            79to love him. There was this
            80God who made all things His in
            81our wrestling.

Notes

2] Connie Francis: born Concetta Rosemarie Franconero, a popular US Italian female singer of the 1950s and 1960s, famous for such songs as "Who's Sorry Now" and "Mama."

3] junipers: evergreen shrubs. chevy: Chevrolet.

4] Dino's restaurant: Hollywood eatery named after Dean Martin, the popular US singer and comedy partner of Jerry Lewis.

6] Kennedy: John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

8] Four Seasons: US vocal group featuring Frankie Valli, hugely popular in the 1960s, with songs such as "Ain't That a Shame" and "Marlena."

9] Johnny Unitas: Baltimore Colts player (1933-2002), named the greatest football player of all time.

15] Beachboys: the main US competition to the Four Seasons as popular US vocal group.

17] Peyton Place: a TV soap opera on sex and love in America broadcast in 524 half-hour episodes between 1965 and 1969.

19] Chesapeake Bay: a 180-mile estuary from southernmost Virginia to northernmost Maryland, home to thousands of species of animal and plant life.

20] Brylcream: hair cream with the advertising slogan, "A littl' dab will do ya'", used by many American men before long hair, crew-cuts, and unisex cuts became popular.

23] Ben Hur: film starring Charlton Heston (1959). the Paramount: Baltimore movie theatre erected in the 1940s on Belair Road, now turned into offices. Rome Adventure: romantic film (1962) starring Suzanne Pleshette, Troy Donahue, and Rossano Brazzi.

24] the Patterson: a movie theatre (now unused and in renovation) in Highlandtown, Baltimore, with an impressive vertical marquee. Sandra Dee: teenage actress of the late 1950s and 1960s, star of films such as Gigit and A Summer Place (1959).

25] Frankie Valli of The Four Seasons, and Dion DiMucci, lead singer with such groups as the Belmonts and the Del Satins.

29] Nat Cole: Nat King Cole, black vocalist (1919-65), whose "Christmas Song" was about as famous as Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

35] Dundalk: city east of Baltimore.

37] Orioles: Baltimore's major league baseball team. Fatima: Our Lady of Fatima (Catholic) School, 6400 East Pratt Street, Baltimore.

46] Fell's Point: a waterfront historic community in Baltimore, with a Recreation Pier.

47] Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Peter Lawford, entertainer-friends of the Kennedys. Liberty Bells: perhaps the specialty chocolates.

48] Camelot: a name given to the White House when John F. Kennedy was President, 1960-63. Sun Valley: an Idaho resort.

49] Johns Hopkins: the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. bocce: Italian game of bowling, on a lawn or dirt court.

73] Fabian: Fabian Forte (1943-), a teenage singing idol of the 1950s and 1960s, known for songs like "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."

81] Jacob wrestled with an angel who, unable to defeat him, dislocated his hip and yet, when Jacob refused to let go, had to bless him (Genesis 32:24; Hosea 12:3-4).


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Copyright Pier Giorgio Di Cicco 2001
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Living in Paradise: New and Selected Poems (Toronto: Manfield Press, 2001): 143-45.
First publication date: 2001
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/8/10

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by Pier Giorgio Di Cicco