My Family Worked at the Aladdin

by Mark Lee Webb

We took tickets, punched quarter tokens, and seated spectators close to Ching Ling Foo who performed illusions on the main stage at noon. I was always hoping they’d book Mr. Sam’s Secret Code, Edward Massey’s Finger Chopper, or Selbit’s Sawed-Off Woman. But when The Great Goldstein gave their secrets away all the old magicians retired, and the shows were never the same. Audiences stopped coming. The Aladdin closed. Mom started living in a music box. Dad wound himself up most Saturday nights with a bottle of Jamaican Ginger and then danced the Jake-Leg on Second Street downtown. They kept my little brother Erwin Lee and his remarkably straight teeth in a trunk upstairs. One night I tried to let him out, tried to get him to sip the air, smell the citrus — pomelo, melogold, and fruit from the wild kaffir tree. Erwin said no – he tasted orange, lemon, and grapefruit before, and they weren’t special at all. So I ran off to find new shows. I hitched rides, headed out west. Eek, Peculiar, and Last Chance. Ended up in Surprise. Got a job off-stage painting background scenes, until my imagination ran out. When I called my brother to come and collect me, I told him I’m tired, Erwin Lee, I ache. I wanna soak in some Radithor for a while, lay down, and catch my breath.

Mark Lee Webb is the Editor and Publisher of A NARROW FELLOW Journal of Poetry. He recently received nominations for both a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets. He was a 2013 Fellow at The Renaissance House Writing Residency on Martha’s Vineyard. His poems have been published in numerous journals, both in the United States and abroad. His newest chapbook, The Weight of Paper, is forthcoming in 2014 from ELJ Publications.

What can you tell us about the origin of this piece?

About the piece: it is a bit of a conceit, telling the story of two brothers. One, the narrator, ran away from home at a quite young age to become an artist in New York in the late 40’s/early 50’s, hanging out with Warhol, Pollock, and others. His brother (Erwin Lee) stayed home and became an accountant (he with remarkably straight teeth). My father was the CPA, his brother (my uncle) the artist narrator.


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