- At the Party, and: Carefully
At the Party
When I was six I went to bed early,but after an hour I’d sit up screaming—
I couldn’t wake no matter what my parents did.They tried talking, shaking, slapping,
they took turns carrying meas though I was being led to safety.
And very slowly I’d come back.What the screaming was I can’t remember.
The doctor used the term night terrorsand told my parents to let me stay up later.
I’m not sure why, but the nightmares stopped;for a long time I forgot they happened.
Then one night, I was in the kitchenfor a glass of juice; in the next room
I could hear my mother talking in her sleep.She was chewing on words she didn’t like.
But when I heard, very softly, laughter—she sounded so much younger,
like someone not yet married.And I pictured her—her dream [End Page 392]
where she’s at a party:drink in one hand, cigarette in the other
as she makes her way across a crowded room.And there’s the man she noticed earlier—
he’s about her age;he sees her; he opens his mouth to speak.
Then they both hear that foolish soundwhen a glass shatters on the floor,
and they know whoever let it fallis the uninvited guest who’s asked to leave. [End Page 393]
Had I never been born, the set of cocktail glasseswith six Peter Arno cartoons in black & goldwould have been displayed behind our bar
instead of hid away in my parents’ bedroom closetand never used. At least once a week my motherreminded me I was prone to little accidents
involving slow-witted lamps, thoughtless vases,or coffee mugs mysteriously filled with milk;each continued falling, even though I held my breath.
And I was certain I understood the word racy,knowing it had something to do with expensive cars,and women passengers, and illegal high speeds.
I remember Peter Arno from a photographwhen he was young & handsome and stayed up lateand still wanted to be out with friends;
when he posed in his studio in evening clothes,looking as if a fresh white shirt, opera pumpsand a fistful of brushes could only inspire him.
My father remembered Arno from a bookhe carried across France in ’44, and losta page or two at a time. He could tell you
the name of every village he stayed in,and which Arno cartoons ended upon the backside of a privy door. [End Page 394]
But in my memory, and perhaps his,the number of French villages always seemedto equal the number of cocktail glasses:
a wedding gift I knew by heart,and in great secrecy took down from the closetnot once but many times, and examined them
for as long as I dared, then carefully put each glassback in its original and undisputed place;put them back, always, while holding my breath. [End Page 395]
david petruzelli has worked as a typesetter, proofreader, auction writer, and appraiser. For the last sixteen years, he has been on the Expert Committee of the Philatelic Foundation in Manhattan. His poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The New Yorker, and Pleiades.