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No Heat
by Alan Walowitz

Leo didn’t want much for the work,
but when offered the piano-keyboard
that lay doused in cellar dust—
same shit had wrecked his lungs a lifetime
and now caused this clogged,
syncopated samba, to come from the place
his voice box should be—he packed it up,
wheezed, Good Night, Ahl,
and was gone for good.

I call him every day to finish the work,
mend the pipe still leaking—no answer,
till one night he turned up in a dream.
But you know dreams; you can’t remember
what they were by the time you wake—
though Leo liked to say
you could dream an answer to anything:
String theory? No problame;
Nuclear fusion? Here is how you do;
The way to rerout the pipe
that’s in the path of the life you really want.

Now when I open the closet
Leo built tight as a casket,
I almost hear the rhythm of old Porto Alegre,
picked out by two fingers
pulsing back and forth on the keys,
puk shhhu, puk shhhu, puk shhhhu,
the drip of hot water on frozen floor,
and then the steam that comes.
The sound could drive you nuts,
unless you choose to shut the door.
Or close your eyes and dream it gone—
along with every little thing you tell yourself
shouldn’t mean this much to you.

Originally appeared in Melancholy-Hyperbole and was republished in The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems from Truth Serum Press, 2019.

IMAGE: Ad from a 1924 campaign for American Standard Company, a plumbing supply business founded in 1880.

Walowitz (some of Leo's work) with No Heat

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Without a good handyman, someone as incompetent as me couldn’t own a home. Leo was one of the best, a wonderful, sweet man who had many skills as a carpenter, electrician, and raconteur. However, he wasn’t  much of a plumber.  As he was rebuilding my basement, Leo seemed to be getting more and more sick. He refused to see a doctor, until I insisted and made an appointment for him. He completed his work, but soon it was winter and a pipe that he had re-routed as part of the job began to leak. Leo tried his best to fix it, but was too ill to see it through. Soon after, I couldn’t reach him on his cellphone, nor could I locate his daughter in Brazil. I keep his number in my phone and I try it occasionally, but now it’s someone else’s line. I keep hoping Leo will stop by one day—as he used to—but, after all this time, I fear the worst.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I have no photo of Leo, much to my chagrin. Nor, could my friend Freddy, also a customer, find the one photo of Leo he had from years ago. This photo is a part of Leo’s plumbing that had to be removed and replaced. I don’t hold Leo responsible. He was sick at the time—and I miss him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After 35 years of teaching, Alan Walowitz is now retired from his second career as a teacher of teachers. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry.  His books are Exactly Like Love (Osedax Press) and The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems (Truth Serum Press). Forthcoming is In the Muddle of the Night, co-written with Betsy Mars (to be published by Arroyo Seco Press).