Behind the Steel: One Life-Five Epochs

Behind the Steel: One Life-Five Epochs


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781681140056
Publisher: Anaphora Literary Press
Publication date: 12/26/2014
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.23(d)

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Behind the Steel

One Life - Five Epochs

By Joe Carvalko

Anaphora Literary Press

Copyright © 2014 Joe Carvalko
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-68114-005-6


Ionian Earth


My father was Joe, and his father was Joe, so Joe named me Joe, in a time when America was awash in G.I. Joes, Joe Louis, Tokyo Joe, Joe Palooka, Joe Average.

But I'm not any Joe, Tom, Dick or Harry, clichéd, stereotyped and written off. I'm "Joe," curly five-year-old, reaching through Eastside tenement pickets, a boy searching for sunsets on the Rosebud, a wide-eyed horseman lost on a Dakota reservation.

A sole-worn drifter that came across the Old Taos Trail, the Appian Way, the road from Entebbe to Kampala, Route 66, the Way of Sorrows, with its flophouses, whorehouses, barrooms, and its Apple Blossom Ball, ending with a forty-nine dollar wedding to a Native empress on the shores of Potawatomie by the shining, big, Lake Manawah.

A Cold War mechanic, whose fiery arsenal filled the skies, who mused on the beauty of Turing ... Escher.

A gray-haired man who prowled moneyed megalopolises, with a briefcase, poleaxe, and chainmail in hand; a conscience bearing witness: to courtrooms, standing mute in the feculence of a sizzling day; to supermaxed jails, Dada's torture rooms, boardrooms standing in the similitude of wrath, cruelty, lust, envy (gluttony reserved for the latter).

A wizened heart twisted in old timey rest homes, where Mama worked (and died), and steel-toed asylums, where Mela vanished sixty years ago; cemeteries opened wide ... swallowing sunsets of the tenderfoot, a rocking chair, Erol, Red and Trane ringing in his ears.

A hairless old man writing poetry, the lines warning to untangle contradictions, unmask illusions, unfold and expose myself to myself ... to those I love, loved ... love and loved me ... my interior self, my identity, that which is me, Joe.


An Elegy

From the instant he inhaled his first pint of oxygen —, he fought to whelm the steely barrier that separated him from one who was lost.

To find the missing, he clashed with the powers that reined inside Gotham's skyscrapers, factory bosses whose gear-works cranked the burgs between Baltimore and Boston, preachers in steepled pantheons who shouted hell, fire and damnation, the bastards that drafted boys to die in a far-off land, the prison bulls that hog tied the druggies, the bad, or those that had simply lost their mind.

Middle years receded, bit by bit —. One by one his champions closed their eyes. He shrunk into obscurity. He searched for the unnamed lost. He staggered through streets of howling fishmongers, horns of hurried taxis, the whistles of men with a hand on a shovel and an eye on a passing skirt.

He outlived hard times, wrong places and bad luck, but in the remains of declining days, he wondered if he had climbed that steely barrier —, the one that separated him from the one who was lost —.



Between Cordova and Truchas,
el hombre
looks skyward, wizened,
blinded by the sun's flux,
in honor of that birth-marked
wiry muscled
clan clawing desiccated soil
from an Iberian enclave,
where Aramaic
voices echoed in ancient temples,
Sephardic fathers' fathers
to moth-eaten lanyards
put out to sea, westerly,
to navigate the flotsam
of leftover queens, conquistadors,
of fame, gold, salvation,
that collapsed
una civilización,
a demise not dignified by glorious battle
or solemn mass, but wasted,
waiting to dispose those in monk's clothes,
those who plundered and stole, tomes, trinkets,
el número cero,
never to gain the language.
El hombre lives,
Shabbat candle-waiting stars, salted meat,
middle-rooms swept, linen cloth and spices
winding the dead,
their names buried in graves across
on County Road 80
Cordova and Truchas
invincible, he remains —
mi abuelo.


Rain comes,
Velvet sheets,
Badlands soaked in urban
Junk, junkies and speculators.
Walk across the sectored sky,
To slip past
The stripped, strippers, quiet mercy.
Fifty-gallon drums,
Tin garbage cans,
Fast-food wrappers wafting against fate,
Gulls, dirty wings flapping over rain-glossed
I fear,
Will pass over her,
Drowned in disbelief,
Neck broken,
Vertically twisting,
This side of a looking glass,
Eyes glazed over,


  I lived between my maternal grandfather's
city dwelling and my paternal grandmother's farm.
  One pitched in the African American quarter
across from the Blue Moon Bar,
  the other in the rightness of Currier & Ives
smack in a field growing switchgrass.
  A bird migrating between two worlds, I'd pine
to hear rustling along a country road,
  and miss the stride along the blue noted strip,
where sorrows were hushed or heels kicked
  off in the revelry of Saturday night.
Skeleton-like at fourteen, my world changed,
  jackhammering concrete, breathing asphalt,
African-Americans, greenhorn
  Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Italians,
all damned to hear the pick, shovel or sledgehammer
  laying Portland cement
along the roads and strips till dusk, before fading,
  each into their own ghettos.
Cast off by time, quarters and farms now fill
  my conceits: strides, blue notes
along the strip, leaves that rustle in my head, the grit
  of my labors rooted beneath my fingernails.


  Mechanical claptraps, treadmills, like blood-filled
batteries, our bodies powered, pressed, cold-worked and stamped,
  monotonous days hammered metal on metal, bone
on bone, nightshift, dirt floor,
  behemoth press, 100,000 pounds pounding sheet
brass into cylinders,
  one per second, form, under foot, pedaled, kerchunk!
Silvery steel die bolting down, arms shackled jerking
back, brass folding dough, spitting into slippery barrels, jammed!
  Chains, kerchunk!
  Damned! Fingers, fattened flat, blood blue ...
  forged, a surplus part of time.
  We filled the skids in alleyways to feed the consuming appetite,
  measured by pieces, timekeeper's log, breaths spent
in a shift sounded by the whistle,
  measured by the will, one day to the next,
interminable race to make the rate, to escape, the pink slip or
  a four fingered glove.


As the centuries turned one into another,
we lost the gift of ancients
for hearing muted primal screams,
for seeing Munch's faceless shriek —
the unmistakable precursors
of everything spiraling into darkness.
I did not see her wane
and wander in the whirligig of despair,
until they threw the keys away.
They took her to the place
where lights bounced-off
linoleum, worn and polished —
behind metal doors
with a window,
a lock turned,
behind which people twirled, laughed,
lifted dresses over their heads
or sucked their thumbs and bawled.
I searched for tapestries of blues, births,
deaths that might yield clues known
to a prior life, threads that led
to why or where,
a skein of twine wound
into a Mobius strip —.


Shifting into second,
My Chevy struggled to climb
The last mile that led to the circular drive
And the porticos flush in the full moon.
Society music wafted from behind French doors,
A Louis XVI-style room,
Six portals to a veranda,
Marbled patio, pool,
In the distance thirty-six holes for the men with satin lapels.
A black-pupiled Haitian mixed golden drinks.
I washed wine glasses.
White uniformed maids passed plates of pâté.
Women, short haired, curled, jeweled, dressed to the neck,
Beiges or pastels,
Sequins quivering reflections of rose flowered vases,
Clear martinis clutched between pinkish fingers,
Stuffed mouths, hairline smiles, barely parted lips
Openly chatting: scores, markets, taxes, marrying right ...
Why didn't the President nuke ...?


Passed Jake's farm,
I'd spotted the love
Of my life, Studebaker, '37,
Red, chopped, low-slung,
308 inline,
6 flat-head, deuce,
Chrome mufflers,
From pit to path could get me
To the winner's circle.
I dreamed of raceways,
Tire-peelin', hot dog eatin',
Beer chugalugging
Crowds that came to see
Tattooed boys pay homage
To mamas, Jesus,
Salley-Mae, lights spinnin'
Radio sportscaster ginnin',
What bug eyes saw up front,
Pile ups, yellow cautions
To snag the checkered flag.


Ivy winds round the downspout working
Its way up, where at the crest of the gable
I embrace her as she fades black and white,
Her wearied unable to resuscitate skeletons
Of factories rubbled as far as the eye sees,
Chain-linked outlines of deflowered flatlands,
The zig and zag of dandelions that live
In the asphalt cracks of dead parking lots.
A quarter moon shadows a tenement,
Hiding behind an eroded riverbank,
Where a briny tide beats against
The bow of a crewless lobster scow.
Tonight I break from her beefs, her bones,
Her eyes fixated on the past, her labors done.
If I am to reach the other side of anywhere,
Despite her maternal grip, I must jump.


For the Life of Me

I, first born child of teens,
Was raised on Dock Street,
Third floor cold-water tenement
From the West End River,
Blanketing us
In the smell of petrol
And dead fish,
— Where I learned to love what stinks.
At night the "chop, chop, chop"
Of Sikorsky helicopters
Beat deep into the dark,
The "chop, chop, chop"
Of lost virtue,
Rice paddies,
Child on fire,
— Where nightly rhythms let me sleep.
At dawn the gate
To a rust-belt relic opened,
The mill that kept us caged,
Uncle Sam
Pulled our ticket,
Pushing us
Under a jungled blind,
— Where duty choked off our sense of shame.


Dorian Fires



We stand on the Eastern edge of daybreak,
where the ghost of night's rain unveils a sky indigo to
rubicund. We look up, arms raised to thank
the unbendable universe for allowing this instant, for the
mourning whale's echo, the whippoorwill's varied
pitch, the rythms of the tribe: Ya ha e hi ya, ya ha e hi ya,
he ya e yo e yo e-e-e-, he i yo.


At noon we turn South, where the great magnet pulls
the ephemeral imagination born of: genera, specie,
factoids, symbols, theories, the convergence of minutia
that clarifies the elemental
of being, no end to uninhabited space, abstracting the
more we know the less we understand, mental
conceptualizations creating and recreating the ideal of
good, balancing reason against the chaos of ignorance.


Toward the West the sun sets over artifacts
of invention, roads, bridges, air ships that join two sides
of an ocean, radios that join consciousness separated by
space, microscopes to explore
our material existence, the quarks and muons,
the yocto-verse, where strings vibrate
with the expectation of a baby's cry, the praise
of our progenitors, music when words fail,
the acts that live and breathe our kindness.


Night falls to the North where the other magnet spins
flaxen from flotsam, to interconnect roads from jetsam,
farms, manufactured multiplicity,
the proliferation of one song into the symphony
of sounds, the flower to a garden, the orators who speak
to nations under the siege of bigotry,
the integration of all things created.


Nature consigns to every child a body,
a mind and an emotion and sets them adrift to sow from
naught, zero, a cipher,
a root,
a stem and fruit formed around the amalgamation of
things as the one artifact to claim exclusively,
theirs alone,
their identity,
the essential part of each of them.
One human, with a humanity that congeals and anneals
under the weight of events,
tempered by good and bad, actions and reactions,
objects and subjects to which life exposes and draws
together her parts,
the purest expression of life —, a child.
And the possibility exists that through the treacheries of war,
a being might not fully form,
or once formed can be deformed; and finally evaporated
into naught, zero, a cipher.


A cold and star-less Christmas morn, the bugler lifted his silver horn; the chaplain led the men in prayer, that the Lord might light the souls soon bare. In communion they marched into a darkness, unable to change that in its starkness, breached the seam that unglued man, in every conflict and every land, love, hate and humanity splayed, a scorched earth of napalm laid, naked upon a frozen floor, where fields of broken bodies bore, monstrosities, brutalities folded and strewn, soldiers stilled in the yellow moon.


In our zeal for the mission, we ignored sizzling, airless days or the other pole, where the clime dropped minus 20 °C for weeks, or rose above 0 °C to unload sheets of sleet or shower the planes in specular snow, saturating the pupil in a cursed surrealism. With horn blasts, short and prolonged, lights flashed yellow caution, engines roared, and bombers moved insistently against the weather and Augustinian certainty that if not aborted, the flying warriors would slay the nuclear family by alchemy that raises planetary intensity to 300,000 °C.


Above the mission on Larimer, where men of the cloth dished up grits, coffee, — and sweet deliverance from a mimeo'd hymnal, I rented a room. Eight-bucks. Victorian bed — iron-framed —, China-white wash bowl, twelve-foot ceiling, half-jaundiced mirror on an oak dresser, crushed roach, emptied Beefeater. Toilet ran. I peered between the rails at the bed's foot.

My wingless angel puked gin, porcelain skin, illusions rubbed out through slotted eyelids, stretch marks, child-like sobs. The Chesterfield-burnt, dog-eared Gideon was loathe to forgive despairing G.I.'s, who rented the loneliness of strangers, who craved the binaries of bedmate and solitude, sheltered from voices that wafted thru vents from wretches like me, rejoicing in: "Onward, Christian soldiers ..."


In view of common entropy, it's difficult to see, the logic or the common sense, of atomic bombs for self-defense, where weaker forces sum, combine, to patronize the vector's line, to bend the photon in its path, to spend the joules in aftermath, instead of laughter and of song, aberrant energy saunters long, Trojan horses through mind's gate come, bestowing Nobels on physicists won, both good and evil it does destroy, critical mass a political ploy, flash, wind, a conflagration, chansons and poems, to appease a nation, rhetoric of war, platitudes to abhor, to penetrate the nucleus, with brilliant speed for all of us, we chose the particle, no conscience to lead, manifestos of nonsense and no one to deed, or dares to exert the courage to need, to alter the alpha as it travels, ending progress, genes unravel, to sums of atomic numbers equate, to conserve the energy then dissipate, rest mass at zero then the boom, the difference between a god and doom, metamorphosis in microseconds, a flash, the boom, of mass of matter, of must, of dust, to snuff our life, of indifferent strife, that we as delicate masters of force, evoke a character of careless course, to create surreal of atomic might, that may render our planet, darkened one night.


The recent use of the atomic bomb over Japan, which was today made known by the President, is the culmination of years of herculean effort on the part of science and industry working in cooperation with the military authorities ... Improvements will be forthcoming shortly ...


Black clad, she fled,
into the morrow,
ragged swaths ablaze,
Victoria C.
wedged fixedly left,
betwixt the slicks,
between the seams
by a Cyclope's eye —,
checkmate —.
queen topples,
jarred, junked and stilled —.
Into a phosphorus
day he raced —,
signs of apocalypse-,
leafless bòn-bon trees
bitter burnt flesh
bouquet, garments —,
broad brimmed hat —,
sandal, small things
endure, sparkle, silver
cross 'round a cut throat,
buckle gilded, stilled.
Hair fallow, black —,
ginger light, amiss,
she lay in a grassy
lea, where rice farmers
connect this place —,
with a thousand years,
gathered pawns —,
predators —,
temporal differences
zeroed, where holy men
beg Buddha torn between
enemies stilled,
by the colloquy
of hacking Cobras —,
copters earsplitting
primal cries to survive —,
Victoria C.
carried betwixt her
woeful thighs,
knight born
to the rice farmer —,
who passes into
a nameless day —, where
save the two, all lay tranquil.


Excerpted from Behind the Steel by Joe Carvalko. Copyright © 2014 Joe Carvalko. Excerpted by permission of Anaphora Literary Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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