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)