Hartford, 1947, by Chris Abbate

The Hartford Italians dropped spaces between words
and syllables from their last names, after all they were first generation

brand new Americans, their slick black sideburns and tongues became
invisible after midnight in the storage room of a south end

restaurant where they’d play pinochle and craps, how else to pay
the cook and the cute waitress to keep quiet, all while their ears

danced their hands to Sinatra, until the night cops raided the joint
and the Italians burned their betting slips and my grandfather got caught

with his on fire, his fingers in handcuffs, and when he got out of jail
he threw a party with champagne and Benson and Hedges in the house

he won from a bet with his friend Carl, the guy he ate steak with Wednesday
nights, the guy with blue eyes who once slipped me ten dollars for a kiss.


About this Poem: “Hartford, 1947” is based on my paternal grandfather, one of the many Italian Americans, including all of my grandparents, to settle in the south end of Hartford, CT in the first half of the 1900’s. I spent much of my childhood and adolescence in this part of Hartford and still have a strong identity with it. I wanted to begin the poem more broadly by depicting the assimilation of Italians into American culture by changing the spelling or pronunciation of their last names. I also wanted to depict the illegal subculture of gambling, which I understand was prevalent among Italians during this time. The abrupt transition to my grandfather is intentional and comes from a story my mother told me. Betting slips were made of a flimsy, easily flammable paper so that they could be destroyed quickly if necessary. Apparently, my grandfather wasn’t quick enough to burn his slip one particular night and was arrested as a result. I try to pack as much as possible in the last few lines: my grandfather’s defiant homecoming party, the means by which he got his house, and his “millionaire” friend, Carl, with whom I had a very brief, strange interaction. Although my grandfather passed when I was only 10, we shared some intense card games of War and Slap Jack in his living room; strictly friendly games, of course.

Chris Abbate’s short fiction and poetry has appeared in Main Street Rag, Timberline Review, Common Ground Review, and Comstock Review among other journals. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his poem “To My Brother and Sisters” which appeared in the Winter/2015 issue of Blue Heron Review. Chris received honorable mention in the 2015 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition and has also received awards at the Nazim Hikmet poetry contest and the Flyleaf Books poetry contest. Originally from Hartford, CT, Chris lives in Holly Springs, NC where he works as a database programmer and coaches for The First Tee.


sliver of stone headshot abbate 11MAR2016

Chris Abbate

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