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Written by Mark Fleisher   

The black man with tightly-wound dreadlocks

accompanying the sing-song lilt of the islands
politely waits while I twice click the shutter
sending the image of a time-worn remembrance
into a digital library ever mysterious to me

"Gonna buy that house?" he asks, pointing

to the for sale sign at the two-story, four-family
brick guarded by an unfamiliar wrought iron gate
"Oh, no, I lived here a long time ago, a very long time,"
thinking how the neighborhood has evolved

The Werners and the Douglases on the first floor,
we on the second, down the hall from my Aunt Ada
and Uncle Sam owner of the building with my
mother's mother -- Grandma Lena who counted
maybe a half dozen English words
sprinkled among her Yiddish -- she and I
did not communicate much

My bedroom in the back of the apartment 
looked out on a small backyard, all concrete,
save for a maple tree whose leaves I counted
when I had the chicken pox and searched
for something to divert my itch to scratch

I faithfully turned an ear to the Lone Ranger,
Sergeant Preston, and Red Barber broadcasting
Dodger games, his southern-twanged voice 
like maple syrup oozing over a stack of pancakes

Mom lit the Sabbath candles every Friday night,
covering her eyes, waving her hands 
three times over the flames as she said the blessing;
I remembered Sundays when dad returned
from his second job at a Manhattan newsstand
on the same block as the Capitol Theater,
he'd bring a thick bundle of the Sunday papers,
held fast with thick white cord -- New York
was awash in newsprint and ink those days


Dad got to know the doorman at the Capitol,
once a month he'd slip this uniformed guardian
a cigar and we'd take in a movie and a stage show,
Johnny Ray's singing echoes in my memory
and I marveled he couldn't fully hear the plaintive words
of "Cry Me a River" because he was deaf in one ear
(I was in Vietnam when they tore down the Capitol
in 1968 and Johnny cried his final river in 1990)

I looked down the alley between my house
and where the black man with dreadlocks
and the sing-song voice of the islands now lives,
in that stretch of concrete I carefully 
built forts of lettered and numbered wooden blocks,
later cried when Bobby Thomson broke hearts in ‘51

My best friend Marty Stein lived across the alley
where we played catch, emulating our heroes
Gil, Duke, Jackie, Campy, and Carl
until Marty's family moved to Los Angeles
and I had to weather alone the ravings
of Mrs. Narinsky who thought a pail of water 
dumped from a second-story window was
appropriate discipline for a Brooklyn boy
whom she claimed made far too much noise

I soon graduated from playing catch
and stoop ball to stickball in the street,
dodging cars and striving to hit
the length of three sewers, tantamount
to Hall of Fame status

Down the street, the barber shop,
me feigning childlike innocence about
the gum stuck to the starched
white sheet tucked under my chin and
Mister Klein not believing a word;
at the corner, Solo Dy Cleaners
where I put cardboard strips on coat hangars,
a penny apiece from Mister Solomon who
finally recognized my underused talents
and promoted me to delivery boy
Not the same when we moved 
to a presumed nicer neighborhood
before I started fourth grade;
no one played stickball in the street,
no stores on the block, or around the corner,
I couldn't imagine playing catch
in the alley with Stinky Davis 
I wanted to return to the block
where the black man with dreadlocks
and the sing-song lilt of the islands
stands guard among my memories

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The Arkansas Free Press is comprised of independent writers and artists. Publisher is Tracy Crain.