Death of milkman on train tracks haunts poet’s memories of his youth

From the New York Times, January 31, 1957, the first report of a horrible, milk-wagon accident in what is now Queens Village,
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Nicole (Lucivero) Martini never met her grandfather Nick for whom she is named. Her brother Nicholas never met him either.

Their father, also Nicholas Lucivero, never met his father, Nick, who had died six months before he was born. Her cousin, Anthony Maraglino, never met his grandfather, Nick Lucivero, either.

Rose Esposito, Nick Lucivero’s sister, remembers her brother as a war hero who landed on Normandy Beach in June 1944 — a great athlete, a guy who lit up a room when he came in.

She has told all her family’s young the stories about her brother, Nick, who died 60 years ago on Jan. 30, 1957 in a tragic accident at the Locust Manor Station near Farmers and Baisley boulevards in St. Albans when his milk delivery truck was hit by a Long Beach-bound Long Island Rail Road train.

The watchman had fallen asleep in the early morning hours and failed to lower the gate to stop the oncoming milk truck, driven by Nick Lucivero. The milkman was accompanied by his assistant, Courtney Kimble, who was 17 and just about to graduate from high school.

I was in third grade, not quite 8 years old, the morning this happened—and Nick Lucivero was my milkman. For all I know, he might have been on his way to deliver milk to my house in Cambria Heights, a little more than 2 1/2 miles away.

I might have met Nick once or twice, though I can’t say for sure. After all, milkmen were denizens of a nocturnal world a kid wouldn’t know much about.

But hearing about the death of our milkman shook my world. Kids in middle-class Cambria Heights were pretty sheltered in our neighborhood with neat lawns and sturdy houses on tree-lined blocks. Our fathers had fought in the war and didn’t like to talk about it much.

Our mothers mostly didn’t work outside the home and were there when we walked home for lunch and at 3 o’clock when school let out.

Things went wrong, of course, but nothing had ever happened as tragically and unexpectedly as this, and never so close to home.

Yeah, I was an overprotected, sensitive kid who was disproportionately affected by such things; I spent a lot of time living inside my own head; I even grew up to be a poet.

But the story of the death of the milkman haunted me and has stayed with me my whole life. Enough so that I wrote a poem about the event.

The poem is called “The Story of the Milkman” and Melanie Villines, the publisher of Silver Birch Press, was kind enough to publish it on her website in 2015.

A year and a half later, Anthony Maraglino was doing some Internet research on his family and he hoped to find more information about his larger-than-life grandfather who he had only heard about and never met.

In the course of doing that research he found a reference to a poem called “The Story of the Milkman.”

He traced it to the Silver Birch Press website and found the poem I had written. Along with the poem I included a paragraph which told the “true” story of Nick Lucivero, at least as true as far as I could piece it together.

Anthony passed the poem on to his family, including to his cousin Nicole and his Aunt Rosie. Anthony also found me on Facebook and sent me a message telling me of his connection to the poem and how reading it had moved him. Shortly after, I was notified by Melanie Villanes, the publisher of Silver Birch, that there was a new comment posted about “The Story of the Milkman,” this one written by the milkman’s sister, Rose Esposito, who is now in her 80s and who had experienced this tragedy firsthand, and who remembered her brother so lovingly.

Then, I was contacted by Stephen Blackburne, a friend of Nicole (Lucivero) Martini. Stephen had purchased a copy of my book, “Exactly Like Love,”(Osedax Press, 2016) in which the poem also appears. He asked me to autograph the book so he could give it to Nicole as a gift.

Soon I heard directly from Nicole, who told me how much reading the poem and having a copy of the book meant to her. In her email, she wrote, “Thank you also for writing your poem - my father, who will be 60 in June, never met his father. The accident occurred six months before he was born.

This poem has given us all reason to talk about my grandfather and has, in just a few short weeks, allowed my father to come to terms with things he hasn’t thought about in 40 plus years.”

I can’t know exactly what Nicole means, and frankly it’s none of my business. But I do know this: Most regular folks—and good folks they are, too—don’t much care for poetry. Marianne Moore confessed in her famous poem titled “Poetry” that she too disliked it. When pressed, people often say they don’t understand it.

They usually blame a high school English teacher and, as a retired high school English teacher, I’ll even accept some of the blame.

Others like to quote the poet W.H. Auden who said, “Poetry makes nothing happen,” this perhaps a way to explain their preference for an editorial that angers them, for a touching and well-written obituary, or a good love story.

But “The Story of the Milkman,” my poem, actually made something happen.

Perhaps it’s not a big thing, unless you consider connecting with some strangers, and helping them connect with their own pasts over the distance of nearly 60 years to be something. I think it is.


The Story of the Milkman

When I was a kid our milkman was killed

right before dawn at a railroad crossing

one low whistle away from where we lived.

We read about it in the Mirror

and were in awe seeing Nick,

a man we’d actually met,

right there with the wife and kids he left,

inset with a picture of the wreck.

At bottom, a separate shot,

was the watchman, bleary and ashamed,

as he was led from the scene.

We grabbed our bikes and tore to the crossing,

but it was mostly cleaned up

except the street was closed

and if you wanted to cross

you had to ride all the way over to Farmers.

We just wanted to look.

Later, my father took us there in the car

and made a noise like a train coming through;

I dug my nails in my palms,

and wished Nick were my dad.

That’s how strange crossings are:

you want the train to come

and kind of hope it won’t.

I can’t even see Nick’s face anymore,

which I had memorized like a list of spelling words.

Or my father’s, which I forgot to study at all.

The next week there was another milkman.

Then my father was gone

and I was a father.

What I hold onto most is that milk box

as if I owned it still

and Nick was going to fill it

with quarts of glistening glass.

Made of galvanized tin,

mottled from the weather,

you could barely make out the name

“Sheffield’s” stenciled in red,

and on the hottest day of summer

it was so cold inside

you wished you could crawl in and hide

from whatever was confusing you to death,

or scaring you sick.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Camille from Flushing says:
This is a very lovely poem.

I am sure his family was touched by someone who took the
time to honor his memory with such a nice tribute.

Most times, we never know how we touch the lives of others.
March 8, 2017, 1:16 pm
Alan Walowitz says:
Thanks for reading and for your comment, Camille. It was so good to know that my poem had made a little bit of a difference.
March 8, 2017, 1:32 pm
Rose from Long Island , N.Y. says:
Thank you for taking the time and writing about my brother Nick. It has brought back many memories of my young years with him. Together along with his Mom and my other brother we collected pictures and memorabilla of his life for Anthony. I only wish his children and grandchildren could have known him. I know life would have been so different for them. Thank you again for taking the time to write such a beautiful poem in his honor. I t was very touching. I hope to find the book of your poems so I may purchase it.
March 8, 2017, 3:07 pm
Alan Walowitz says:

I can only imagine how painful this is for you, even after all these years. Thanks for letting me a tell even a little bit of your family's story. Have Anthony or Nicole send me your address and I'll send you a copy of my little book which contains the poem.

March 8, 2017, 3:36 pm
Sheri says:
What a touching poem. It begins telling a story about someone else but ends revealing a complex internal story of a young boy and also the emotional processing of the mature man that that young boy becomes. It is not only the event that has remained with the boy/man but the transmutation of that event in its simple but powerful nurturant symbols of milk and comfort up against fear and confusion and love and death. Thanks, Alan, for marrying simplicity and complexity, external and internal, for feeling right into the heart of things.
March 8, 2017, 4:47 pm
Peter from Westchester says:
A haunting and deftly-written piece of pain.
March 8, 2017, 4:48 pm
Anthony Maraglino from New Rochelle, NY says:
Again, when I contacted you I never knew a simple question would spark an intense search for remnants of my grandfathers past and also a follow up article by you to your original poem. As stated, I never met my grandfather but through this search I have come to love and respect him more than anything. I wish with all my heart I knew my grandfather and hearing the stories recently from my aunt rose and my grandfathers brother about what a happy go lucky man he was has brought me a whole new perspective. I am so appreciative and honored that my grandfather is being remembered! He deserves it!!!
Thank You Alan
March 8, 2017, 4:53 pm
Brian Bassuk from Rockland County says:
Alan, your poem immediately brought back pleasant memories of my father, who died shortly after being in a car accident. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye, but visit with him often in my thoughts, as I experience the many experiences we shared together and mimic his mannerisms on a daily basis.
Your words and the images they created have given me many happy thoughts of the times we shared throughout his life.
Thank you.
March 8, 2017, 8:10 pm
Jenna Rindo from Rural Wisconsin says:
This was such an interesting piece--the poem itself is a beautiful historic narrative, a glimpse into how our lives are connected and the impact we have on each other whether it is revealed now or much later. -- After reading the article and Walowitz's haunting poem I find myself thinking about both the accident victims and the watchman. I'm imagining he didn't plan to cause such a tragic accident and presumably fell asleep against his will. Was he physically sick, mentally stressed out, working two jobs? In what ways did he and his family suffer from his negligence and the fallout of guilt? Of course my sympathy goes out to the Lucivero family and the Kimble family. I can't fully conceive of the pain involved knowing a baby I was soon to deliver would never meet his or her father. Long story short, clearly poetry and the way it connects us to each other in complicated ways does matter. Thanks for such a thought provoking poem and article.
March 8, 2017, 9:21 pm
Ken from Rural Suffolk County says:

Was glad to see you acknowledge how us mere mortal “regular folks” that make up probably 99 % of the world’s population (including most of your friends) sometimes (?) have difficulty understanding poetry. This one was not so difficult though. The impact Story of the Milkman has had on the lives of people really does make it special.

March 9, 2017, 10:50 am
Alan Walowitz from from Cambria Hts. says:
Thanks to all who've posted.

Sheri, thanks for your acute analysis. You've understood the poem more deeply than I ever intended. But I guess that's how it is, as you know, when you write a poem--and in this case a poem that had resonance that I never expected it to have.

Peter, "a piece of pain." I suppose it is. I hope the ending of the story of the milkman, sixty years later, helps to ameliorate the pain just a bit, for the Luciveros to have their grandfather's and father's and brother's story told in a bit more detail than it had been at the time.

Brian, that's also some story that you've had to live with. I'm sure you can understand the pain of the Luciveros much more viscerally than I can. As a kid, I could only feel the pain "second hand," and it was impossible to understand or even talk about. The poem, at least, has allowed me to talk about it. If my poem's helped you a bit also, I'm very glad.

Jenna, that's what makes this so special to me--the fact that this experience that I remembered over sixty years could help bridge the years. I don't know what poetry is supposed to do, really. My guess is it can provide a balm to any reader if it's done sensitively and universally enough. Here I kind of stumbled on to the opportunity to make a small difference. The research I've done about the tragedy doesn't reveal much about the watchman or Courtney Kimble, especially Courtney. The next day he would have graduated from high school. In my fantasy about him, he was a very good kid! Riding the milk truck with Nick before heading off to school! I'd like to think that he and Nick liked to sing! Thanks so much for reading and for your comment.

Thanks, Ken, for reading and understanding the poem. You'll have to blame an English teacher, perhaps. But, please, not me. I appreciate that you've taken the time to read and to comment.
March 9, 2017, 9:34 pm
Isaac from Nyack NY says:
Beautiful poem and very touching story. Painfully reflective of a life cut short and how it brings you, me, all of us to reflect on our aborted relationships with our fathers... our hopes, our longings, and what we do to compensate... very moving.
March 19, 2017, 7:40 am
Alan says:
Thanks, Isaac, for your comment and insights. Reminds me of these lines from a Richard Wilbur poem: I dreamt the past was never past redeeming/But whether this was false or honest dreaming/I beg death's pardon now. And mourn the dead.
March 21, 2017, 10:42 am
Stephen Blackburne from Chicago says:
Alan - thank you again for helping me to make a very special moment for Nicole Lucivero of the family.I gave the second copy to Nicole to give to her father. You are not only a very talented poet, but a very kind person as well.
April 2, 2017, 6:20 pm
Alan from Little Neck Border says:
My pleasure, Stephen. Thanks for your kind comment and the part you played in helping me contact Nick's family.
April 3, 2017, 9:51 am

Comments closed.

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