CNF: What You Love Most on Mill Street

by June Avignone


Michael, when I heard today you died falling off a bridge somewhere in Jersey
I thought, like a few others, that you probably didn’t commit suicide,
that you probably were just drunk and fell off accidentally and didn’t even
know your body was free falling toward the earth, knowing how our best words
can be our most savvy saboteurs.
But what do I know.

The last time I saw your face it was under a park bench in Paterson
in front of the bronze statue of Lou Costello swinging his Who’s On First bat,
your ear pressed to the dirt as if listening for the Great Falls roaring echo,
your jaw a bloody mess, your adjunct professor clothes soaked by rain
your apartment door just across the street,
sleeping like a lost crazy child in the dirt.

And the time before that you were sitting against an abandoned building
sharing a bottle with two homeless drug addicts I knew from the shelter
who drank Sterno twisted from a rag when all else failed but now had you,
and your savings from teaching at the community college. And I say,
Micheal, What the hell are you doing out here? I thought you were in rehab?
And you say, slurring loudly, almost proudly

No, no, you don’t get it! Read Bukowsk! Bukowski! He doesn’t care about
staying on wagons, he eats wagons for breakfast with crow heads. Then whisper
Listen! Be your own perpetrator or your writing will drown in pretentious silly shit!
And I say, Yeah yeah okay, you have a home, you have talent, get up. Go home,
when the filthy man with the brown bag leaning against him like a tree yells at me,
Leave him alone, bitch, he likes it out here!

That famous poet friend of yours at Columbia with the droning ego told me only
last month how you lost your apartment but live with your brother now and got a job
as a produce guy in an A&P where you met a nurse who fell madly in love with you
and your wrenching poems and just knows you’re doing fine.
But all I could think about was your soft hungry heart and bleeding face
on the ground before Costello ‘s feet and Bukowski’s words
Find out what you love and let it kill you


A former journalist and columnist, June Avignone is the recent recipient of an Allen Ginsberg Prize for poetry and author and editor of several books including Downtown Paterson, On Going Home Again, Traveling Small Distances and Cianci Street: A Neighborhood in Transition. She has had her poetry and essays published in a variety of publications including The Sun Magazine and the Paterson Literary Review.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “What You Love Most on Mill Street”?

The idea for “What You Love On Mill Street” came to me directly from a demanding crow who visits me daily on my porch in upstate New York, miles away from the Mill Street neighborhood of Paterson which I will miss for eternity.


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