The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

When I was a kid we called it Decoration Day. I can still hear my grandmother saying, “It’s Decoration Day, time to put the little flags in the front yard.” I don’t know if I realized that the day was meant for decorating the graves of veterans. I do remember crossing the street from my grandmother’s house, into the little park and standing around the memorial there that held the names of those from the town who had served in World Wars I and II, my father’s name on one of them. He was the captain of a black company who was assigned to clean up after battles–both rubble and remains. Like most vets, he never talked about it. He wrote home always adding the PS. “This war will never end.”

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here
for the holidays, is washing
the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry,
coated with dry wall dust takes
her hand and says, “I bet you loved
Sinatra.  Dance?”  The acrid smell
of plaster floats through the room.
Frank is singing, “All or nothing
at all,” and Al leads my mother
under the spinning ballroom lights
across the new sub-floor.  He
is smiling.  She is looking over
his shoulder.  The other guys
turn off their sanders.  Al
and my mother move through
the dust, two kids back
together after the war.  Sinatra
holds his last note.  “It’s been
seven years since I danced,”
my mother says.  “Then
it was in the kitchen, too.”
Al smiles again, says,
“C’mon then, Sweetheart!”
biting off his words like the ends
of the good cigars he carries
in his pocket.  Sinatra’s singing
“My Funny Valentine” and
my mother lays her hand in Al’s.
They dance again, she looking
away when she catches my eye,
Al leading her back
across the layers of dust.

-Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore and winner of Say-the-Word Poetry Prize from The Ellipse Art Center, Arlington, Virginia. David St. John, judge. Also published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press).

27 thoughts on “The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

    • You love this one because your heart is its heart.
      I’m so glad we get to hang out each Thursday through
      the poems, Coach!!!

  1. Your mother’s drywallers were quite different than the crew we had. Ours showed up first thing in the morning, quite subdued, and dressed in full white coveralls. When I returned at the end of the day, they were down to their boxer shorts, singing at the top of their lungs and very out of tune, to the Rolling Stones. I attributed their behavior to the strong fumes from the taping glue………..they are certainly a different breed. Had they asked me to dance, tho, I would have certainly agreed!

    • Sue, you should see my smile. It just won’t go away!
      What you wrote is your poem. I love seeing this.
      Keep on dancing.

  2. This one is probably my all-time favorite. Still gives me chills! A happy Decorating Day weekend to you and yours! 💜😘

    • Ahhhh Lins. It gives you chills because of how soulful you you you are.
      Even when it’s early! : )
      PS. That little poem has had a very big life. A joy for this scribbler.
      I hope you two are savoring many a sweet moment!

    • Thank YOU!! During these times, to know that I was able to send to you
      a sweet way to start a day rather than the usual bleak opening makes
      me very glad!

  3. The post-war atmosphere perfectly intimated. Sinatra expressed and sang the the lyrics of the era. Memorial day was always the planting of the garden. As a child Summer meant freedom………………..

    • Ahhhh yes, the planting of the garden for sure.
      Your knowing that a poem is most often a way
      into something “big” through intimation
      is a joy to this and any poet!
      Ever grateful

    • I am SOOOO glad you could SEE it, Sandy. And Mom would give you
      a big hug too!
      Now, get that lug of a husband to dance YOU around the kitchen!

  4. Echoing others, this is also one of my favorites. My mother, too, called the holiday Decoration Day. Brings back a memory!

    • To know that this is a favorite is such a joy, Betsy. it makes ME happy
      to know that this poem touches dear you!!

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