Poet's Choice: 'Mike the Winger' by Robert Polito
"Mike the Winger" is from a new collection "Hollywood & God," which mixes poetry and prose, fiction, autobiography and even essay. The book tracks a continuum along what traditionally you might style "transcendence" and what we've come to tag "celebrity culture," and Mike is one of its patron saints.
The city of "Mike the Winger" is Quincy, Mass., where I lived from age 8 through college. The walk to Saint Ann's School took us down Hillside Avenue, along South Central Avenue to Newport Avenue, then through a mysterious concrete tunnel under the tracks of the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and onto St. Ann's Road. The afternoons Mike appeared on his bicycle with a basket of new records at the foot of the South Central Avenue hill were rare and special, and rumors swirled about his circumstances, most of the stories at once confident and implausible. Was he a Korean War Vet, way older than he looked? A junkie? Retarded? Schizophrenic? A genius until some goons pounded his head with a pipe in a schoolyard fight?
Mike loomed a bit of a phantom -- but so did Quincy, amid its granite quarries, ancient water tower, Vaudeville Mondays at the Wollaston Theater (into the '70s!), sad beach (despite twin yacht clubs) and Quincy Square disintegrating around its Richardson Library and historical Adams House. But Quincy Square also contained "Remicks of Quincy," the posh clothing store a few doors down from Sears, where, if you were lucky, you might see Lee Remick visiting her father, Frank, and Jason's Music and Luggage, your destination for sheet music, instruments and the latest LPs. I made a pilgrimage to Jason's every Saturday, and so did Mike.
(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)
Mike the Winger
City of Presidents,
City of the Granite Railway and Fore River Shipyard.
But city too of condoms ground into our pitcher's rubber,
and city of water rats and black leeches floating in the spring runoff.
City of the first Howard Johnson's, the first Dunkin Donuts,