Leland James

The Ballad of Marco McGuire 1947-1967

— a different time, and the same

Marco’s mother was Italian.
His dad was an Irish cop.
Marco was ice cream and apple pie,
called both a mick and a wop.

Wore those gibes with a red-haired smile.
Looked you straight in the eye.
It was like that back then, among friends.
Cherry cokes and the Fourth of July.

It was all in the tone, and the grin,
hard to remember those ways,
the way words were among city kids
that meant no harm in those days.

Marco got in at the “Gear,” Motown,
workin’ graveyard on the line,
married a Mexican girl named Jane,
everything goin’ just fine.

‘Till a guy said spic with a sneer.
Marco cut off a piece of his ear,
landed a spell in Jackson Prison,
hard time, nine months and a year.

Marco lost his job, took to drinkin’,
died on 75 in an auto crash,
all for a word and a sneer; ain’t it strange:
a word turned his world to ash.

Marco laughed at the gibes of his pals.
Been called both a mick and a wop.
Brushed it off with a scoff and a grin,
but spic in that tone had to stop.

Marco was ice cream and apple pie,
but the Dream went sour as bile.
Marco was ice cream and apple pie.
And he once had a red-haired smile.

A piece of the Dream died with Marco,
that night in a fight at the Gear;
and the year he soured in prison
—he died of a word and a sneer.

Let a one-eared man be his marker,
strange how the years can turn.
Like an idled plant and a widowed girl
in a city was about to burn.


Leland James is the author of five poetry collections and four children’s books in verse. He has published over 300 poems in venues worldwide, including The Lyric, Rattle, The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Haiku Quarterly, The American Poetry Review, and London Magazine. He has been featured in American Life in Poetry, and was recently nominated for a Push Cart Prize.

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