In paying tribute to Simon Rodia, the Italian-American builder of the L.A. Watts Towers, William Kelley Woolfitt offers a compelling meditation on the ties that bind brothers.
Simon Rodia Builds the East Tower of Nuestro Pueblo to Honor His Brother Killed in a Coal Mine Accident
1922: Watts, California
At night, he dreams he and his brother confront their father,
insist that the old man divide his living between them,
let them buy steerage on the White Star Line. Below decks,
he and his brother eat from the same pannikin, wrap together
like twins on the hard bunk, and cross to the far country,
and go into the mines. When the props buckle, when mules keen,
the earth murmurs, gives, and enfolds, and comes down,
limp out from the mouth of the mine, find light, blow ash
from his hands, and move out west, where he apprentices
for a cementer in the city, listens to jazz, guzzles wine,
makes love to a dozen senoritas, and sheds each like a sweater
that scratches too much. A boy with grit-impressed skin,
enflamed eyes, dust in his breath. He buys a weedy pie-slice
of land near the train tracks. He drinks more wine, smashes
the empties with a mattock, piles up the broken bits
at the back of his lot, makes a mountain of diamonds.
He raises a marker made of bent rebar, chicken wire,
and mortar that he adorns with conch shells,
a boot, buttons, pebbles, corncobs, dazzles of shards.
In dreams, his marker becomes a tower that spires into the sky,
its cement shaped by his hands, its fragments catching light.
Originally published in The Salvager’s Arts and Switched-on Gutenberg.
Editor’s Note: This is not the first time William Kelley Woolfitt has published with us. Check out his poem “Boy with Kite” here.
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Photo by Jaime Perez Dinnbier /Flickr