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by John Kent
I remember Jimmy,
tough Italian kid in the neighborhood;
he took me under his wing.
I was new on the block,
out of Brooklyn,
this was the Bronx,
cast off neighborhood of immigrants;
the parents were,
or at least the grandparents,
an ethnic mixture,
Italian, German, Jew,
rather unusual. We got along.

I was scorned, or worse, ignored
by the other kids;
a game they played,
pay your dues.
Anyway, one day I was bouncing
a "spauldeen"* off a weather-beaten stoop,
inhaling the spaghetti sauce
teasingly drifting out of the windows.
Jimmy walks over and booms;
Hey kid! You wanna play?
I eagerly yell...sure!
The other kids protest.
Hey Jimmy! Whadya wanna let him play for?
Jimmy yells, shut up! HE plays!

Jimmy drapes his arm around me.
You're playin' on my side kid.
What's ya name?
Johnny, I said.
Well, I hit two home runs that day,
bounced the old spauldeen off an old tenement building,
three man hole covers down the block.
Jimmy says, great game kid!
From now on you're Big John!
I was in...right there with the other kids;
Fish, The Beak, Bug Eyes, Nervous Eddie,
Juice, Monster...we all had our monikers,
except Jimmy.
Everyone was too scared to hang one on him.
Tough kid Jimmy, good heart.

I'm sitting here at home,
watching the rain slide off the window.
Jimmy popped into my mind.
I don't know why.
He was killed...in Korea.
They gave his mother his silver star.

*spauldeen...a hard pink rubber ball.

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Copyright © 1999 by John Kent. All rights reserved.