Michael Lally

Four excerpts from The South Orange Sonnets

Volume 17:1, Winter 2016
Some Of Us Press Issue

from The South Orange Sonnets


In East Orange Carol Robinson decided I
was her boyfriend. Her father found out
before I did. Told his friends and neigh-
bors how he didn’t want no white boy hang-
ing around his little girl. One asked me
not to pass the time at his house anymore
listening to his son’s Clifford Browns or
talking to his twin daughters. Walking
home that night three teenagers sitting
on a stoop on Halstead Street yelled: Hey
white boy, whatchu doin aroun here? You
know where you are? Where you from? When
I answered South Orange this fat girl said
Shoot, that muss be Carol Robs turkey.

South Orange cover8.

A sign across the street said *WATCH
CHILDREN* The street ended at the top
with the house where the man lived
who sang opera on his front stoop at
three or four in the morning when he
came home drunk. Sober he repaired
telephones. At the bottom it crossed
what passed for a highway in 1942
only to dead end into the railroad
tracks. It had eighteen houses on it
a bowling alley a gas station the
back of a supermarket and a practice
football field where we played Ring-
a-lario the night Babe Ruth died.


When my mother died two Irish great aunts
came over from New York. The brassy one
wore her hat tilted and always sat with
her legs wide apart. At the wake she told
me loud You look like your grandfather
the cop if you ever get like him shoot
yourself. The other one waited til after
the funeral to pull my ear down to her
level and whisper Youre a good looking
young man but if you don’t shave off them
side boards people will mistake you for
a Puerto Rican. We had so many cousins
in our neighborhood everybody called my
mother Aunt Irene. Even the Italians.


There is some music you have to listen to.
In South Orange there were rich Catholics
rich Protestants and rich Jews. My cousin
became a cop. His brother was stabbed by
an Italian called Lemon Drop. Across the
street lived two brothers called Loaf and
Half a Loaf. My brother became a cop. On
St. Patricks Day 1958 I came home drunk. My
mother said He’s only fifteen. My father:
It had to happen once. My grandfather was
a cop. One cousin won a beauty contest at
thirteen. My sister married a cop. By 1959
I knew I was going to be a jazz musician.
My father joined AA before I was even born.


Michael Lally (1942 - ) was born in Orange, NJ. He served in the U.S. Air Force (1962-1966), attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and lived in DC from 1969 to 1975, where he started the weekly poetry series and magazine Mass Transit, wrote book reviews for The Washington Post and The Village Voice, and taught at Trinity College. He co-founded Some Of Us Press; his book The South Orange Sonnets was the first book the press published, and it garnered the New York 92nd Street Y Poetry Center’s “Discovery Award” for 1972. From 1975 to 1982, Lally lived in New York, starring in a couple of horror movies, and in 1982, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting as a career. In California, he co-founded Poetry in Motion, a weekly poetry series, and edited the magazines The Hollywood Review and Venice. He raised his first two children as a single parent in NYC and LA (during the long final illness and after the death of his first wife, Lee Lally). Lally returned to the east coast in 1999, settling in Northern New Jersey. He has been married three times and has three children. He is the author of thirty books and chapbooks, including Another Way to Play: Poems 1960 - 2017 (seven stories press, 2018), Swing Theory(Hanging Loose Press, 2015), It Takes One to Know One: Poetry and Prose (Black Sparrow Press, 2001), Cant Be Wrong (Coffee House Press, 1996), and Hollywood Magic (Little Caesar Press, 1982). He edited the influential anthology None of the Above: New Poets of the USA (The Crossing Press, 1976). His awards include two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, The Pacificus Foundation Literary Award, The Poets Foundation Award, and an American Book Award. In addition, Lally is the author of five plays, and contributed to the screenplays for Drugstore Cowboy, Pump Up the Volume, and The Laureate, among others. His acting credits include such films as Cool World, Basic Instinct, White Fang, and The Nesting, and such television programs as Deadwood, Law & Order, JAG, NYPD Blue, Brooklyn South, the Father Dowling Mysteries, L.A. Law, and Cagney & Lacey.