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Pictures of a Fireman

Pictures of a Fireman

Grandma said his eyes rose
like moons above the rim of his glasses
when he leaned over the table
at the pool hall the first time they met,
called every shot. I remember him
descending from a cloud
on a ladder of flames
with a woman in his arms,
clipped from the front page
of the Newark Evening News
and framed on their living room mantle.
Or as he was in the photograph I found
in an attic album of him tending register
behind the bar of a speak-easy,
his eyes dark, cheeks flushed,
grinning back at the camera
as if he owned the place.
I see him seaside, sometimes,
up to his knees in weekend surf,
his white, button-down shirt
flapped open like the wings
of a Great Egret, fishing pole bowed,
tip sparkling like a cufflink on a cloud
as he tugs at the ocean, hair black
and slicked back, as it always was,
even at his wake. I can’t recall his voice
or a single thing he told me,
but I dangle on the soft lines of his face,
the dark-spotted skin, drawn thin
about his hands, how they would shake,
his cup and saucer rattle, steaming coffee
splash against the rim, and how his eyes
would rise above his glasses
like apologetic white flags,
then fall away from mine
as he leaned in cautiously for a sip.

NOTE: This poem originally appeared in NYQ.

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John Smith lives in Frenchtown, NJ with calligrapher Catherine Lent. He has three daughters. John Smith’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines and has also been anthologized in Under a Gull’s Wing: Poems and Photographs of the Jersey Shore and Liberty’s Vigil: The Occupy Anthology. His poem, “Lived Like a Saint,” which appeared in The Journal of New Jersey Poets, was set to music by Philadelphian composer, Tina Davidson, as part of a choral work, Listening to the Earth, commissioned by the New Jersey Parks Commission. John’s poetry has been in NJ Audubon since the late 1980s. His poem “Birding” was commissioned by New Jersey Audubon for their centennial.