One cloudy day in 1945,
I played alone in a vacant lot
across from the Central Hotel.
Digging roads for my fire
engine. It was small, red,
and made of cast metal.
Suddenly, I saw my mother
standing next to a man
in uniform. She called to me.
We were living in a cheap hotel
in Redondo Beach.
The Central Hotel.
Built in the twenties or so.
Wooden fire escapes.
Bathroom down the hall.
Filled with smoke,
Men and women fighting.
People coming & going all hours…
I stood & shaded my eyes
from the sun glare. They walked across
the street to me.
“This is your father.”
He had medals on his chest.
I stared at him,
He grabbed me up like a bag of potatoes.
Whiskers scraped my cheek.
Beer breath frightened me.
He toted me
into the Central Hotel.
The war was over.
I remember the smells.
People cooking on hot plates.
Fish, cans of hash, eggs, stew,
potatoes, onions, cabbage, coffee,
anything & everything cheap.
And then, there was the
hotel manager patrolling the halls.
Looking for overdue rents.
Maybe an open door to stare in.
He smoked big cheap cigars.
Chewed them till they were wet
then, he’d hock & spit.
Usually he’d miss the open door
hitting the floor instead,
the was followed by a
“God Damn” or two.
more powerful than all these odours
was the stench of the mouldering
hallway carpet. That grease-stained,
puke-beige carpet. It’s miasma
hung fog like in the halls.
For reasons I didn’t understand
I was forced to sleep alone
in our hallway leading to the bathroom.
Here in the shadows, car headlights
seeped through diaphanous curtains
from Diamond Street, and threw
huge fantastic shapes of black
and ghostly white on aged wallpaper.
Until he came in a flood of light;
and spanked me till my butt burned.
And then for the rest of the night,
I breathed the stench of dead carpet
and listened to each night sound
walk by my hall window.
I fell asleep, planning immortal revenge.
Not long after this, my father,
Speed disappeared forever.
His memory still hangs like a fog in my mind.
Steve De France is a widely published poet, playwright and essayist both in
America and in Great Britain. His work has appeared in literary
publications in America, England, Canada, France, Ireland, Wales,
Scotland, India, Australia, and New Zealand. He has been nominated for a
Pushcart Prize in Poetry in both 2002, 2003 & 2006. Recently, his
work has appeared in The Wallace Stevens Journal, The Mid-American
Poetry Review, Ambit, Atlantic, Clean Sheets, Poetry Bay, The Yellow
Medicine Review and The Sun. In England he won a Reader’s Award in Orbis
Magazine for his poem “Hawks.” In the United States he won the Josh
Samuels’ Annual Poetry Competition (2003) for his poem: “The Man Who
Loved Mermaids.” His play THE KILLER had it’s world premier at the
GARAGE THEATER in Long Beach, California (Sept-October 2006). He has
received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Chapman University for his
writing. Most recently his poem “Gregor’s Wings” has been nominated
for The Best of The Net by Poetic Diversity.