It has risen from the ground and taken
us by surprise this morning – only thick
enough to hide the nearby highway,
and the houses that have invaded the shaved
hilltop on the horizon. Traffic of lost drivers
become reduced to mere background music.
The oak tree looming over the fence,
the one the city has seen fit to let grow
into and through the power lines, stands
against a background of white and its
saw-toothed leaves cut a sharp edge
against what can not be seen.
The leaves, for unknown reasons, remind
me of chainsaws. Somewhere north,
my father, whose days of cutting fallen
trees into fireplace logs have long passed,
is sitting beside a window looking out on to
a courtyard much colder than this.
If we were talking we’d find a way
to bring weather into it, to keep the flow
going so the pipes didn’t freeze.
What passes for conversation would be
a series of questions with one word answers.
Fog. Fine. Working. Chicken. Tomorrow.
Each word vivid against a background of nothing.
It hits how you’d forgotten the pleasure
of sitting by windows, focused deep
on what life appeared in an 8×10 pane,
that you will end up the one in the war
of attrition to get the tree pruned and that
the thought that the blank screen of fog
says this moment is full of possibility
is at war with the thought you’ll only venture
out to find the known routes from memory,
which makes you think of home, realizing
the place where this internal map was drawn.
The light switch today, an impossible task.
Six floor tiles by my count, following the sun
light backward from the living room to the oval
window at the door which should bring more
peace than it does. I think too much about how
fragile the notion of security, whether it is
better for an old man to crawl on all fours
for a drink from the tap or simply to ask.
The room darkens and from this spot
I can detect a cloud passing over, the mail truck’s
diesel engine revving the stopping, come
to seed the neighborhood with junk mail,
or maybe drop envelopes in boxes like grenades.
The grandfather clock says it’s half past something,
in my incapacity I keep sleeping through the hours,
once again knowing only the minute detail
which is separate from the whole.
Later, the neighbors walking their dogs.
They’re telling the rescue greyhound to come on.
Which tells me to put on shoes the next time
I’m out, to beware of presents in the grass.
A grackle on the telephone line speaks in clicks,
a language that sounds like electricity arcing
through the air as if channeling the signals
meant to bring us closer that are slipping through
its talons. The room lightens and darkens,
pain pulses through the spine, keeping time
with the clock and the random signals passing.
It’s almost June. Receding water from April is still
leaving a mud ring around the basin. Fishbones
and beercans spring up like forgotten things;
life seems to be getting back to normal. Uphill,
there’s ash and a still smoking log in a fire ring.
For a second I’m nine again; we’re up at midnight
watching a tobacco barn burn from the porch
of our farmhouse. It’s two miles away but you can
see light and smell smoke from great distances
at midnight. Word got around Old Man Pearson
hired some fellows and the neighbors didn’t approve.
He said ‘nunya business’ to which they replied
‘don’t be cryin.’ I’m not saying that people
worded things in the 70s as if a man wanting to live
on his own terms caused his own disasters, but . . .
Then the rains came. The mixture of ash, tobacco,
Jimson weeds clinging to life at the edges,
some cow shit. Each scent blended into a mix
of regrowth on top of tragic, the acrid smell
of rage lacing the sweetness, like the fencerow
that led home with honeysuckle perfume,
the vines and blooms hiding evidence
of rot that couldn’t hide from the nose.
Here memory works backward,
the campfire coming after the rains,
each waterlogged limb drowning but safe from fire.
The tall grass vibrant, green. The weeds fan out,
burrs cling to a pants leg along with mud
and wet ash. Sensations follow you
into your house, even after years of washing
the same stains, they return, waiting in the future.
The smell rousts you from bed
at midnight–right on schedule.