Inspired by Homer’s Iliad, the poems of Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, Francis Lazzaro V is the 19-year-old poet laureate of the G&A Coney Island Hot Dog diner in Highlandtown.
Lazzaro explained over coffee that he works as a busboy at the legendary establishment performing “jobs that no one else wants to do.” He is also in love with Demi, daughter of the third-generation hot dog king who owns the joint. Demi has a profound influence on Lazzaro’s writing.
“She’s the canvas, the window that I’m looking through when I write,” he said. “Poetry is a way to express my love for life. It's evidence of all the good that man can produce.”
Lazzaro wears the exploits of Odysseus on his sleeve and is moved by the Bukowski line, “to give life we must take life,” from the poem “As the Sparrow.”
“It’s about the raw emotion of man," Lazzaro said. "We never realize the beauty of rust—that rust tells the story of a life.”
“My dad wants me to join the military or attend a trade school,” he said. “He always says, ‘I should never have given you a copy of Hunter S. Thompson.’”
His father, an army veteran, read The Rum Diary while stationed in Berlin on the edges of the Iron Curtain.
When he got his hands on it, young Lazzaro devoured every word.
His father is a central figure in his quest. Lazzaro remembers waiting for his dad to come home from the shipyards at his grandmother’s house.
“You could see the lights of the Sparrow’s Point from the alley, the water and the bridge—you could see it all,” he said. “I was a little boy waiting for his dad to come home. He’d appear, covered in oil and dirt, exhausted.”
His mother works for the state and earns a good wage, but Francis is not concerned about material outcomes.
“Everybody is concerned with making money,” he said. “I’ve been told to get a good job so a rich girl will marry me. I want to do something because I’m passionate about it.”
Lazzaro—the poet—wants to write novels and short stories.
He equates this calling with a story of his grandfather, also named Francis Lazzaro, and his passage to America from Sicily. The elder Lazzaro didn’t have his papers in order and jumped off the boat to swim a half-mile to shore.
Thus, the nickname: “Il cuore di squalo.”
The shark heart.
“Sharks have beady eyes that look like endless holes. There’s no soul in there at all,” said Lazarro. “But they will fight until they get what they want. They don’t give up.”
He believes no one should settle for a life that doesn’t make them happy.
“Every day we live our life for love. We fight for love of country. Everything you do comes down to love.”
Here's a poem by Lazzaro called "Love."
You marvelous disease,
not only by touch, contagious
giving reason to madness
wings to fireflies
those evenings in June
we burned ash to ash,
two hearts, on our flesh
the seared crests
of previous moons.