Uncle Beale: A Baltimore Boy
He could beat everyone on the public courts
at Druid Hill Park. Droodle, it was pronounced. Nearby,
a giant greenhouse, a lake with a dingy fountain.
He served and hit volleys until the Great Depression
bled into a war, which he signed up for. Came home a captain,
kept his silver bars on purple felt.
The bombed-out cities he’d seen in Europe—
Baltimore wasn’t like that. Downtown was going crazy;
shoppers hurried through traffic and blue exhaust,
hailed cabs or waited for trollies at Howard and Pratt;
and the mills at McCormick Spice were pumping out
cinnamon, saffron clouds, sweet-smelling
whiffs into a busy port. He wanted to grab a piece
and applied for job after job. But it’s useless, he thought,
because of the Jewish name. He had a point, of course,
when you think of the world at that time.
A talented guy, he landed a great-paying job
at a store named for a Mr. Cohen, who had the same
last name he used to have. Don’t call him Uncle Beale,
Aunt Libby said. Call him Uncle Ed.
But we never did.
He tried to return to tennis but ripped a rotator cuff
and had to quit serving, at first, then the overhead smash
where the fun in tennis is at.
He took prednisone just to raise his arm above the waist.
The side-effect was a round face. When I think of my uncle,
it’s the eyes I remember most, diamond-bright,
and how he wiped at them with a handkerchief
like he’d been crying or laughing too much.
Like other uncles, he did magic tricks
and knew how to pull a quarter
from behind my ear. It tickled, I laughed.
He dabbed at his eyes with a corner of cloth.
When I was too old for magic, he’d leave a five
as his “donation to the cause.” He and Aunt Libby
moved to the suburbs, beyond where Charles Street ends.
I was in high school and mowed their giant lawn, shirt off,
sweating for my “donation.” Then I moved away, lost touch,
and heard that he’d joined a church. I went to it once
for the funeral service. When the minister gave the oration,
he left out the Jewish name. Uncle Beale once had a name,
a name and a reason to change it.
A Painter in 18 Lines
—for Eddy Canellos
I know nothing about her life, except
for three paintings on my living room wall. Well,
I did ride in a sports car with Curt, her husband,
who had a patch on one eye. Also,
Curt and Eddy fled Austria after the war.
Bad things happened after the war,
as well as before and during. Once,
she took me into a field to paint horses,
red and brown, bending muzzles to earth,
tearing huge tufts of grass. And today
she is unknown. Would that surprise her,
or would she tell me: No,
the years after Curt’s death were long.
I hardly remember them myself.
But what a surprise!
A little boy remembers that day
we painted horses in a spring field.
Or cares enough to imagine he does.
David Salner’s debut novel is A Place to Hide (Apprentice House, 2021) and his recent poetry collection is The Stillness of Certain Valleys (Broadstone Books, 2019). He worked as iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, and librarian. His writing has appeared in Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, and Innisfree 33 featured a retrospective of 25 poems drawn from his four books. https://www.innisfreepoetry.org/innisfree-33/a-closer-look-david-salner/
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