Hamburger Hal was Richard Ucci
who grilled patties on a grid of fire,
garnished them with all the fixings,
trucked his miracles around church festivals
and modest fairs in parks and empty lots.
He prayed over his specialties in Italian
as he spread salt on meat like holy water,
a tattooed testament to all his father taught him
about the meaning of “cooked just enough.”
Both generations lie under the soil of St Mary’s
with its faint aroma of barbecue sauce and relish,
their bones united by spatula and fork.
Hamburger Hal lived three blocks
from where I grew up, the side of his van
painted with sizzling meat and onions,
giant bottles of ketchup and mustard,
and a guy in a huge white cook’s hat
who didn’t look the least like Hamburger Hal.
I never had one of Hal’s burgers in all my life
though I know there were some who swore by them.
Richard Ucci claimed to have a secret ingredient
like Coca Cola or KFC though we kids
figured that for a lie, for the Hamburger Hal that
we knew was nowhere near bright enough
to be concocting magic recipes.
He just grilled burgers the same way everybody else did.
But he had a van. He could be America
whenever there was some place to park it.
His competition was candy floss and bounce rooms.
And his late old man of course.
He died young. A tractor trailer crossed the dividing line
and crushed him like a slug.
People still say no one made burgers like Hamburger Hal.
But Hal wasn’t a real person so maybe those aren’t real memories.
I do remember clearly watching dogs chasing that van
and thinking to myself, they’d better not catch up with it
or they’ll be on a bun before the day is out.
You get all kinds of stories about those who put themselves
out there, if only in a small way.
The truth is probably mediocre burgers and no chopped-up Fidos.
But that’s not a good truth.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Poetry East and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Harpur Palate, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.