The challenge of excelling at what doesn’t come naturally.

Me at 16, 1st string center, Pelham Spartans, Bronx Umpires Association division champions, 1972, 1973 & 1974.

I have always gone against my own grain. In high school, I aced math and rarely exceeded a B in English. With an aptitude for numbers, I could have slid into a good life as an accountant (a profession later experience taught me to respect). Instead, I majored in English education and journalism in college and struggled to become a writer. This contrarian inclination has made my life hard but also interesting.

I first learned just how interesting it could be in 1971, my eighth grade year in junior high. To my father’s great disappointment, I seemed to have inherited…

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

How an only child found first love.

Each semester, my report card made the same complaint: “Eugene’s refusal to speak up in class discussions will hold him back.” I didn’t worry about it, though. As an only child, silence suited me just fine. And being a bookish one, getting good grades came easily to me. But when I reached my teens, I realized my teachers were right about a more important aspect of life: love.

In Throgs Neck, the working class section of the Bronx where I grew up, you had to speak up if you wanted love. Here’s how it went: you said to the girl…

“Washington Square Park, Summer 2018.” Original photograph taken by author.

I found you again,
a single image, one among
thousands from that summer when
we could still crowd without a mask.
You stepped out into the August dusk,
a low sun shining through your dress,
the shape of your thighs a sudden intimacy.
I was walking downtown,
snapping pictures
like my idol Garry Winogrand

when we fell into step
entering Washington Square.
I turned as if just observing,
glimpsed you in profile,
the breeze tugging back your hair,
the slightest upturn of the mouth,
eyes gleaming. With mirth?
Or was it just the setting sun?
Oh beautiful one,
you knew I was looking at you.
I gathered…

I’ve been working from home since the 1980s. Here’s everything I wish I could’ve taught my younger self.

Photo by Jeremy Jannene. Use by CC BY 2.0

Social distancing has thrown millions of office professionals into the deep end of the working-from-home pool. Many feel like they’re drowning in productivity expectations and guilt. I’m also working from home these days. Unlike most, however, I’ve been doing it for long periods over four decades. Experience has helped me keep my head above water.

But when I started working from home back in the early 1980s — long before the internet, smartphones, social media, and Zoom — I found myself gasping for breath, too.

I had finished grad school in the middle of a nasty recession. Hiring freezes made…

“You are failing us!” How incensed, Greta’s stare down,
our emptiness profound against Greta’s stare down.

Earth and the markets got hot, we all made money.
Not a single cent recompensed Greta’s stare down.

In wanton consumption we beg for extinction.
Our repentant recyclers sensed Greta’s stare down.

Two mean scowlers, the Donald and that girl, except
science not gas pains influenced Greta’s stare down.

God’s human experiment faces the verdict.
Have “its exquisite sins”* silenced Greta’s stare down?

Free market fantasies or New Deal nostalgia,
there she stands, trolled and unconvinced, Greta’s stare down.

My own eyes witnessed the…

The table, la mesa, all geometry
contained within her plane,
she wobbles slightly,
one leg missing its glider
or perhaps it is just worn,
or cut slightly shorter than the others,
a charming albeit irritating flaw.
A grommet pierces her surface
tunneling from above to below,
two universes unaware of each other,
this table
who does not know herself.

- Eugene A. Melino

First published in the catalogue for The Infinite: Arch and Line, the solo show by the artist Anna Carina Sinocchi, June 10, 2019, to January 15, 2020, at the Hamilton Club Gallery, Passaic County Community College in…

“Carousel Horses — Roses” / Original photograph taken by author

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 6:4

At seven I was small enough to ride standing up in the van,
Uncle Sonny and my father up front, me still in my party clothes:
white hat, white holsters, tin badge on my chest. One of the good guys.

Sonny drove. He and my father were best friends, wannabe wiseguys
who married a pair of Puerto Rican sisters. Still, they lived up to the wiseguy
style of the Bronx circa ’66: the diamond pinky rings, the high Pompadours

and Sinatra singing about the summer…

The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012. [During that same period], no other country has [had] more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters.
The New York Times, Nov. 7, 2017

And they have built the high places of Tophet…to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire.
— Jeremiah 7:31 (KJV)

I carry… says the father interviewed
on the radio as I shave.
He’s come to see his daughter in Las Vegas,

the rifle round that slid up her thigh
and into her belly now snuggles her spine.

Source: Pixbay / CC0 Creative Commons

Adrift across your eyes’ rare green, my love,
we learned the ways adults diversify love.

Good Muslims should speak truth to their fanatics?
For this Christ got what? Peter left to deny love.

I don’t care why The Donald says I’m fired,
The Beatles tell me money can’t buy me love.

Second amendment gun, American idol.
Our Pilates wash their hands and crucify love.

Babies ourselves, your breasts — untouchable.
We were two teens asleep in a lullabye love.

Gay or straight, ignore the wedding bells.
Neither church nor state can verify love.

Keep your solemn protests. Forget the rich.

Filthy Labors by Lauren Marie Schmidt / Curbstone Books / ISBN: 978–0810134690 / 104 pages / 2017

I was nursing another cold Peroni at a wobbly table at the Bowery Poetry Club when I first heard Lauren Marie Schmidt read “In Defense of Poetry,” the lead-off poem in her third collection, Filthy Labors. The turn on that free verse sonnet whipped me right out of my boozy stupor. Published this spring by Northwestern University Press, Filthy Labors brings news from the class war front, where Schmidt dared to teach poetry at the Haven House for Homeless Women and Children.


Eugene A. Melino

Poet / Playwright / Essayist.

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