Mr. Daley by W. S. Merwin

Mr Daley
by W.S. Merwin

Mr Daley could whistle between his teeth
but just the one phrase over and over
it was in the good old summertime
and it made my mother sniff and shake her head
as he pushed the big wooden spoon around
and around the pot of flour paste he was mixing
on the old coal range in the back kitchen
near the laundry tubs that smelled of laundry tubs
as the flour paste smelled of flour paste
and Mr Daley smelled of Mr Daley
in a stale shirt he was old in his fifties
with a hump between his shoulders and it was
still summertime and he would carry the pot
up the back stairs to the heat of the attic
where he had already carried the truckload
of mattress cartons one at a time
got for nothing from the Furniture Store
& Funeral Parlor on South Main Street
and he had nailed them up under the attic beams
and then would paper them end to end with old
church bulletins as insulation
because the house was so cold in winter
he kept laughing to himself about something
while he worked and whistled they said he was not
like his daughter Isabel whom they admired
who worked in Thomas’s Piano Store
that would burn down one winter with icicles
forming from the jets of the fire hoses
and the flames racing up inside the rooms until
the top floors stacked high with pianos
crashed slowly together through icicles
and piano chords chiming in chorus
while I stood watching from across the street
on the stone steps of the Methodist church
remembering Mr Daley whistling
between his teeth in the good old summertime

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