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The childless house we moved to

in the Fifties was gummed with Christmas

firs, red apples; squirrels and fox cubs,

two-tooth Gerber grins -- stickers, pressed on

bare walls. Some crazed wife leaving marks

the agent said.

Our carpenter re-stained scratched floors,

replaced split sway-backed banisters

with sleek wrought iron. Smooth plaster

sky-blue wallpaper appeared.

At sixteen I could sense returning

warmth, the heat

of new-glazed hearths transforming

troubled rooms: but not that shelters can

be molds where griefs of former occupants

adhere; turn liquid; trickle out.

Refurbishing did not prevent

our father’s

golden glance descending into

corridors of gloom, my mother

hammering her plumb-line course

through shrinking doors. Did not preserve

their space of shared beneficence

and pain

I think I witnessed once, before

its frame clamped shut. They each died waiting:

she for unvarnished ends to take

effect; he at our corner stop for a

symbolic bus -- mad barren woman


the backdrop who knew more than

well-groomed sons suspect, pushing

her thumbs against flat fate. Lost

wax: scorched residues I bear

in runnels of spilled chances,

wintry dreams

of unroofed days.

The Sixty Four Best Poets of 2018 (Black Mountain Press, 2019)

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