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Man of the Year

My father tells the story of his life,

and he repeats The most important thing:
     to love your work.
I always loved my work. I was a lucky man.

This man who makes up half of who I am,
     this blusterer
who tricked the rich, outsmarting smarter men,

gave up his Army life insurance plan
     and brokered deals
with two-faced rats who disappeared his cash

but later overpaid for building sites.
     In every tale
my father plays outlaw, a Robin Hood

for whom I'm named, a type of yeoman thug
     refused admission
into certain clubs. For years he joined no guild ---

no Drapers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant
     Tailors, Salters, Vintners---
but lived on prescience and cleverness.

He was the self-inventing, Polish immigrant's
     son transformed
by American tools into Errol Flynn.

As he speaks, I remember the phone calls
     during meals---
an old woman dead in apartment two-twelve

or burst pipes and water flooding rooms.
     Hatless,
he left the house and my mother's face

assumed the permanent grimace she wore,
     forced to watch him
gamble the future of the semi-detached house,

our college funds, and his weekly payroll.
     Manorial halls
of Philadelphia his Nottingham,

my father fashioned his fraternity
      without patronage
or royal charters but a mercantile

swagger, finding his Little John, Tinker,
     and Allen-a-Dale.
Wholesalers, retailers, in time they resembled

the men they set themselves against.
     Each year they roast and toast
one member, a remnant of the Grocer's Feast

held on St. Anthony's day, when brothers
     communed and dined
on swan, capon, partridges and wine.

They commission a coat of arms, a song,
     and honor my father---
exemplary, self-made, without debt---

as Man of the Year, a title he reveres
     for the distinguished
peerage he joins, the lineage of merry men.
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