We usually walked everywhere,
but that day burned into us
with a bright chrome yellow,
and my father was on edge
so we rode the Forty Fort bus.
The bus was hot and crowded
and its motion caused me to vomit.
My father tried to clean it up
with his handkerchief,
like gathering in a sunflower
which had fallen
in the thick stale air.
A coal miner, standing
in the aisle while riding
home from his shift,
his face and work clothes dark
with coal dust and looking
like a statue of some saint
shrouded in purple on Good Friday
caught my eye like he knew all about us,
knew that my father would soon walk away,
knew that our family was in turmoil,
knew that my sister and I
would spend long summers
striving toward the sun,
struggling to bloom
Then, the coal miner looked
right at me and winked,
as the bus rolled on
into the yellow afternoon.
Rocky Castellani: The Pride of the Coal Regions
Rocky Castellani was the pride of Luzerne, Pennsylvania and of the entire coal regions. A middleweight boxer, he was never the champ but a highly respected contender. He was probably the best fighter you never heard of.
He fought in an era when gentlemen wore tuxedos to boxing matches and ladies dressed up to attend the fights.
Castellani fought all the big names and he fought hard. Castellani knocked down Sugar Ray Robinson but lost a close split decision. A year earlier, he lost to Carl “Bobo” Olson for the middleweight title. He also lost to Gene Fullmer and Kid Gavilan but defeated Joey Giardello and Ralph “Tiger” Jones. Castellani won 65 out of 83 professional fights.
Middleweights were especially popular with the public. They were faster moving than the big heavyweights and packed a bigger wallop than the lighter welterweights.
Rocky began boxing in local venues like the Kingston Armory, Artillery Park, and South Main Street Armory. Rocky gradually moved up in the rankings and in the venues getting to fight in Madison Square Garden on the popular Friday night fights brought to you by Gillette.
Rocky carried with him the hopes of the underdog and of coal miners and blue-collar workers in the coal regions. He was cheered wherever he went.
Rocky’s parents were from the old country, and they instilled in Rocky a love of family, respect for others, and an appreciation of the old ways.
Rocky’s wife and family cringed each time he climbed into the ring to try to pummel the opponent before he pummeled you. No thought was given to concussions or brain damage or Parkinson’s disease. Important bouts were scheduled for the full 15 rounds to entertain the public but putting boxers at increased risk.
Rocky Castellani was the original and true-to-life Rocky Balboa of the movies. Long before Hollywood invented Rocky Balboa, Rocky Castellani was the genuine, the one and only.
Ed McCafferty is a native of the Wilkes-Barre area and a graduate of Wilkes College and Lehigh University (Ph.D in Chemistry 1968). His poems have appeared in various literary magazines including Poet Lore, Gargoyle, Potomac Review, and Scribble. He is the author of the chapbook Audrey and I Stride Forth, published by Argonne House Press. He is also the author of a graduate textbook in chemistry entitled Introduction to Corrosion Science (2009, Springer Press). He lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife and two cats.