In the basement
in the home he’s lived in for sixteen years
the man finds a leak in the water heater
while he’s cleaning out the mechanical room—
while he’s rummaging through piles
of tools and tape and fixtures and nails
he’ll no longer need—
he notices the damp corner, dimly lit—
the concrete darker, glistening,
cold and musty, filling him with dread
because he’ll need to fix it himself—
because he’s not going to pay another man
to come into his house
and down the narrow basement steps
to witness what it looks like
to dismantle a life from the inside out—
a few boxes marked with his name,
the rest marked with hers—
and he doesn’t want to explain to anyone,
especially another man,
that he couldn’t fix it, even though he had the tools.
It’s surreal enough that he’ll pay an attorney
to divide his life in half, jaggedly,
like the teeth on his hand saw, barely used.
The man picks it up, considers all the things
he never got around to building—
considers all the lives he’s about to cut down.
“Alvaro and Christina” by Andrew Wyeth, 1968
On the radio
there is a voice
full of loneliness
“what am I gonna do
and between last year
and this brand new one
I’ve been learning
able to seep into cracks
I didn’t know I had—
cracks made by love
revealing my wish
to be known
held so tight
it hurt to let go—
and now that I’ve been
for so long
I think I have a sad
and honest answer
to the crooner’s question:
chorus of sleep,
“Intermission” by Edward Hopper, 1963
The cardboard boxes
have collapsed under the weight
of this past year—
they have suffered the daily cycle
of dew and dawn and temperatures
that had no trouble penetrating
the sheet metal walls
of this storage shed.
I am here to empty the contents
of this small rectangular room
that you filled so neatly with your hate.
The first time I unlocked
the flimsy door and rolled it up,
my books (not even boxed)
tumbled to my feet like the lives
you believe I destroyed.
It took hours to chisel a path
into my belongings,
so haphazardly strewn,
that I could feel the pleasure you took
in purging me from your life—
from the house we shared
for a dozen years.
Who could blame you
for not letting me back in
after I told you what crimes
I couldn’t help but commit?
And as I carried away
the things I found I could live without
I began to imagine you
filling the boxes with resentment
and taping them shut
with sticky bitterness.
I imagined the involuntary smile
that would appear on your face
if you knew my favorite mug was broken.
My stained glass window, cracked.
The lemongrass basket, crushed.
I thought about texting you this news
because I knew it would give you
a small deserved delight—
but you’d misunderstand
and think I was trying to tell you
it was somehow your fault.
“Alvaro and Christina” by Andrew Wyeth, 1968
What if it came to you broken
but still full of potential?
What if it made you feel
something like comfort
when you held it at arms length
to examine its flaws?
What if the glaze was chipped
and could never be restored
to its original condition?
What if you liked
the way it looked on your shelf
holding your beloved treasure?
Would you keep it on display
or go ahead and break it
because it wasn’t perfectly smooth?
a boy who hadn’t reached out
to grab my memory
in a long damn time.
But driving fast down 46
I see a truck waiting for its turn
to pull into traffic.
The association begins.
A middle aged man
behind the wheel.
never grayed the hair
of Parrish Broady.
Never calloused his soft hands.
Middle age didn’t arrive
with a birthday cake blazing
or a crisis of identity loitering
in his high school yearbooks.
the boy with the strange name—
now that he’s gone—
now that I have lived
more than double his short life.
who must have climbed that tree
a hundred times—
that tree that was finally able
to reach its branches
into the powerlines
like fingers searching blindly
for the switch in a dark room.
And he perished—
the young boy
the little brother
the beloved and adventurous kid
who must have mistaken
that dark limb for the one
that would keep him
It isn’t the first night you’ve been gone.
It isn’t the first night I’ve felt alone.
Out of my body.
But it’s the first night you are silent.
I feel your absence sink in.
And I am crushed flat
under the weight
of what I am
Which is almost nothing.
I was 12 years old
when Ryan Akers
approached me in the arcade
while I played Centipede.
I tried not to pay attention,
tried to act like I didn’t feel
as if the new and unfamiliar wish
for him to touch me
was as benign
as anyone’s desire to hold a puppy.
And I don’t remember
a single word he and I exchanged
but I remember the shock
of seeing Lance kiss Amy
in the dark corridor
before we got picked up—
and the next morning in Sunday school
I watched Amy open a Dum-Dum
which she licked with a kind of pleasure
that made me certain
she wasn’t focused on the Book of Joshua
or its heroine, Rahab, the prostitute
who got exactly what she wanted.
was on the tip of Lance’s tongue—
and on the tip of mine
were words like sensual and erotic—
words that weren’t yet in my lexicon,
but their meaning was beginning
to take hold
on the scaffolding of my experience,
which wouldn’t include a kiss
from Ryan Akers—
but it was his anatomy
that first led my imagination
to cling to all the possible and varied
expressions of what I can now
identify as love.
Cropped area of “The Love Song” Norman Rockwell, 1926