John Ferone 8

Out for a Drive and Thinking about John Ferone  (1943-2003)
By Alan Walowitz

I got to Millbrook twelve years late,
though the horsey set was still sunning itself in the cafes,
their Lexuses polished to a nub
and tied to the decorative posts at the curb.
John had died before he and I could play some golf,
or watch birds with the Audubons
dragging their fancy Wellies through the mud.
He was plenty well-off already,
but he taught the hell out of those kids even in the summer
and drove a bus each afternoon, and never spent much,
as if the Great Depression he’d learned about as a kid
was right around the next curve on Fisher Avenue.
Fridays the Lotto tickets were stuffed
in the top pocket of his Dacron shirt,
the same one he’d worn, stained and askew,
since he was a pup, and the principal took a chance on him,
despite the way he dressed and his plentiful unpolished ways:
John was born rumpled and called not so smart from the first—-
no one had yet heard him declaim Romeo’s lovesick soliloquies
and make them make sense to thirteen-year-olds
who had plenty of love problems of their own,
or convince the motley kids he taught
why they’d rather tour Sunnyside
than spend and get at the Mickey Ds right off the highway
close in to the old Sleepy Hollow cemetery
where I bet John would have wished to be buried,
though the Babe and Gentleman Jimmy Walker
are now his neighbors up in Hawthorne.
How fitting for an ill-fitting squire from Millbrook.
Still, years later, strangers come up to tell me
he was their perfect teacher.
I know for a fact John had plenty of faults,
but I can’t think of any right now.

This poem appears in the author’s collection The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems (Truth Serum Press).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was hired to work in the White Plains, New York, schools, one of my new colleagues was John Ferone, a long-time 8th grade English teacher.  John was such a unique person—earthy, erudite, gregarious, very private—and, as I soon discovered,  a memorable English teacher for several generations of White Plains students. Towards the end of my tenure in White Plains, John became ill and passed away.  He was much too young and still had so much teaching left to do, and so many students to affect, in that inimitable Ferone-way. I try to capture a little of John’s specialness in this poem.  It’s also a tribute to his colleagues in White Plains, and teachers everywhere, who truly are prime movers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Though writing poems can be quite lucrative, Alan Walowitz earned the bulk of his fortune as a teacher of secondary English for 34 years, mostly in New York City public schools.  From 1992-2004, he served as the Coordinator of English Language Arts in White Plains, New York, public schools,  He’s also taught at Pace University, St. John’s University, and Manhattanville College. His poems can be found lots of places on the web and off.  He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry, and his poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and 2018.  His full-length book of poems from Truth Serum Press, The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems, is available on Lulu.com, and other famous online booksellers.  His forthcoming chapbook, In the Muddle of the Night, co-written with poet Betsy Mars, will be published by Arroyo Seco Press some time soon.