Here is a poem I wrote from a memory that does not belong to me. Instead, it is a memory my husband has from his boyhood in Corona, Queens, New York. I met Mrs. Emmi, a family friend, only later in her life, and I never knew her sister or her sister’s husband at all.
The story as told to me contained only the barest details: that the neighbors across the alley opened their windows each morning to hear the violinist practicing his music—before he took his cab out for the day.
I do not know if his children actually went hungry. What I know of this family is that during the 1950’s they occupied one room in the house of the grandfather, Mr. D’Italia. Eventually the musician found work playing at one of the resorts in the Catskills, so their family story has a happy ending after all.
This little poem has a very common theme: the artist’s dream versus the obligations of daily life.
35th Avenue, 1954, The Musician’s Children Go Unfed
–for Corinne Emmi, whose brother-in-law
one floor up drove a cab in NYC
Last night her sister came downstairs
to her door weeping over the grocery
money he’d again squandered to buy
sheet music. Here in the morning Corinne
leans out her open window with the sunlit
red geraniums feeding on beauty that is
not bread. Next door across an alley
the width of two cars and overhung with
tightropes of laundry, first floor to fourth,
other elbows, too, rest on windowsills.
He has his audience, she knows, to whom,
before he puts away his violin, he bows.
This applause will be sufficient then for him
to inch his dented taxicab from the alley
into the thankless day and the long night
time and again past Symphony Hall.