When I was a kid our milkman was killed
right before dawn at a railroad crossing
one low whistle away from where we lived.
We read about it in the Mirror
and were in awe seeing Nick,
a guy we’d actually met,
right there with the wife and kids he left,
inset with a picture of the wreck.
At bottom, a separate shot,
was the watchman, bleary
and ashamed, being led from the scene.
We grabbed our bikes and tore to the crossing,
but it was mostly cleaned up
except the street was closed
and if you wanted to cross
you had to ride all the way over to Farmers.
We just wanted to look.
Later my father took us there in the car
and made a noise like a train coming through;
I dug my nails in my palms,
and wished Nick were my dad.
That’s how confusing crossings are:
you want the train to come
and kind of hope it won’t.
I can’t even see Nick’s face any more
which I had memorized like a list of spelling words.
Or my father’s which I forgot to study at all.
All I know, the next week
there was another milkman.
Then my father was gone
and I was a father.
What I picture best is that milk box
as if I owned it still
and Nick was going to fill it
with quarts of glistening glass.
Made of galvanized tin,
mottled from the weather,
you could barely make out the name
“Sheffield’s” stenciled in red,
and on the hottest day of summer
it was so cold inside
you wished you could crawl in and hide
from whatever was confusing you to death
or scaring you sick.
PHOTOGRAPH: The author, age 11, 1960, Junior High School.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The poem takes place where I grew up in Cambria Heights, New York, which is in the south eastern part of Queens. The death of our milkman is a vivid memory from my childhood, but I don’t remember nearly as many details as end up in my poem. I did find an article about what happened in the New York Times archive, dated January 31, 1957, so I would have been nearly eight years old when this event occurred. But, as with most memory poems, it’s better not to let reality become more important than your own imaginings about how things might have been. (For the record, the milkman’s name was Nicholas Lucivero. Also killed was his assistant who was 17 and whose name was Courtney Kimble. So sad.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Walowitz is a poet who’s been writing for many years, and currently in Great Neck in Nassau County, where he keeps his eye on New York City proper from his doorstep. He teaches some days at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, and other days at St. John’s University in Queens.