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Published: Wed Apr 15 2020
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
AGNI 91 Aging Family Violence
My Great-Grandfather’s Chair

Here’s how my great-grandfather escaped death.
He was an important man, a banker to bankers.
They built him a pyramid at the corner of Broad and Wall
across from J. P. Morgan’s mausoleum.
That’s where the bomb went off. September 1920. Lunchtime.
The clerks had just escaped their supervisors
and were thronging in the street. Some had fought in the war,
had somehow escaped the bullets, the wire, the shells.
At the curb, an old horse, and a cart full of scrap metal.
The metal permanently scarred the walls of Morgan’s bank
and blew apart my great-grandfather’s office.
But he wasn’t there. I imagine him
already at his club, hearing the blast,
feeling the building’s slow deep shudder.

When my great-grandfather retired from the bank
the directors gave him a chair,
with a hidden compartment under the seat.
Slide it open and you’ll still find,
in Gothic lettering, their terse ineloquent
words of appreciation. The chair
now sits in front of the fireplace
in my father’s big ugly house that’s not new,
not gracefully old, just falling apart.
My father was a banker too. He sits
in his recliner chair, next to the commode,
holding the remote.

See what's inside AGNI 91

Jay Wickersham’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Harvard Review, AGNI, The Formalist, The William and Mary Review, The High Window, Vita Brevis, and elsewhere. He works as a lawyer and architect on issues of urban sustainability and climate change. (updated 4/2020)

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