Three months into your college freshman year,
I redecorate your former room:
hang a Goodwill painting of a solitary
schooner over the headboard of the twin bed
whose coils and cotton have kept the shape
of your nocturnal tossing and settling.
I’ve flipped the mattress, ignored its thin spots,
added linen sheets strong as wind-filled sails,
and dusted spaces where pillars meet planks –
empty masts and decks of a lonely vessel.
Thanksgiving awaits, and like a Mayflower
pilgrim, on this terra firma you’ll land:
our boy so nearly a man whose whiskers
scratch at a pillowcase clean and foreign.
For a weekend, we’ll call you ours again
before seeing you off at the driveway
like handkerchief-waving old English folk –
those who remained to endure the rule
of a vacated home, the tyranny of staying
and caring beside an ocean’s changing canvas.
Indoor Lumberyard Sparrow
Trapped amidst supplies
that look like home,
she cannot nest
between piled green posts,
she cannot settle
into stacked yellow planks:
fallen trees shaped and planed
In finite flight caged
by steel rafters, she strikes
a thin metal roof
the color of rain.
Soft as wonder,
she seeks a break, a beam
that will golden the hidden
flecks within her wings.
Daughter, I know you are tired
of straining against
your little-girl room.
Too old for tiaras,
for unicorns, for pink,
you broke the bough
long ago, and I’m here
for new materials:
Corkboard for pin-ups
of heroes not me,
then over to paint
where I’ll find sailboat blue –
a darker decision
that brightens you into
the light that breaks through
safe and well-meant structures.
On my grandmother’s grandfather’s marble run,
schoolyard-won keepers gradually glide, rolled
by modern gravity toward dark bottom points.
Left, then right, then left and right again
until a cat’s eye or steelie finds rest
in a hole labeled and valued with numbers.
My small sons are fixated by color and gleam,
by sound from the same wood as organs:
musical walnut ringing with tin curves.
My father, my boys, and I watch my calm blue glass
ball slide and slope toward a sturdy rattle ending
the short trip: 40, just shy of an older man’s luck.
Placing the marble back in its leather sack,
my youngest trades it for a blood-blood red
replacement: Will it swerve? Jump the track?
This pass is his alone. A quick drop, a held breath,
a wait for fate and physics to offer an amount,
a comparison to those that came before.
Soon, old stories and scores will be recalled,
but now, we witness and listen. The crimson
sphere rotates, catches the light, descends.
When the hurricane came at night, it bent
silhouettes of ancient trees under moonlight,
phantomizing tropical landscape,
pantomiming juvenile darkness fears:
Our ghost-house whistled as fingers
of rain scraped at panes unboarded, untaped
since televised men in coats had promised
lower numbers, lesser categories
than our old-native experiences
with wind and water and terror.
Morning after, we walked to the garden
where every stalk of corn had broken,
pushed flat and wet: a thatched floor of ruin
where the storm’s hard voice had proven
our adult hubris childish defiance –
Not to worry; just a little weather.
The rented roto-tiller’s circular blades
dug to deep black earth as it destroyed
green rows of crushed optimism: arms
that once reached sunward like a toddler
wanting a distant parent to pick them up.
Accordion File Physics
Full of rough drafts,
these cardboard bellows
weigh more than my loaded
silver toolbox twice
inherited. One hammer-
swinging bicep strains
greater to raise
this burden of language.
The stuck hex nut?
The stripped screw? Simple
matters for clamping jaws,
for flat or complex
heads turned with sweat:
efforts made heavier
by heroism and history.
Yet this black rectangle
requires pall-bearer lift –
heft of honor, solemn,
certain step the future
will find labor’s legacy
after so much leverage.
Amid these gathered leaves,
feel the forceful pull and push
upon words’ wooden capstan
worked by the pry and torque
of hand and memory.