Only if you are ten and it’s rainy and a Saturday--
You are hungry, but there are worlds to be built,
a rainbow of mismatched brick.
Plastic, but small enough for your hand, not like
those heavy piles of red and that mortar splattered
scaffolding stretched outside
a yellow window where you watched those men from an eighth
grade classroom sweat and lay brick, lift cauldrons of mortar
by rope to a bridge made of split two by tens.
How could you know in ten years you’d be just like them,
cementing storm drains into manholes 8 feet down?
This baptism of mud drying on your gloveless hands.
And now, you watch your nephew kneel down as if
his act was sacred. A birthday gift of Legos,
the grey and black bricks spilling to the floor.
The picture he is making is a war plane with missiles
He discards instructions and builds what’s in his mind,
resolute with each piece he snaps into place,
The inevitability of the structure taking shape.
Afterwards, there was so much
left, his dress shirt and brown slacks
knotted in a soft embrace,
The caved in chest of a jacket,
twang of a hanger on a metal rod,
an IV cart left behind in haste.
My mother untangling their arms
and legs, folded them in halves,
packed them in the bag they gave.
The bed was already made.
The meds on the nightstand
with one refill left, the kindness
of two coupons given, free meals
at the cafeteria from the nurses’
station. They sent us to the correct
elevator, asked if we had
everything, if the room was clear.
His nurse, walking back to his
room before the door slid closed--
just wanted to make one more
sweep. What I remember most
though was her shoes,
pristine white, with those Velcro strips
that ripped when she walked.
The wedge of a heel
rubbed uneven, how she went back again
to his room to see because she didn't
believe, her own wrinkled palm
pressed against his bed,
smoothing those new sheets down.
Because the top of our awning needs painting
and he was available.
Because a friend of a friend recommended him,
said he’s real thorough, won’t hit you over the head,
which meant cheap, which meant he spent too many years
breathing the outer space of a paint can’s dizzy fumes.
Because his clothes are a universe of Jackson Pollack splatters,
but I didn’t think “artist” the first time I saw him.
Because when he put his Turner Tea carton down to tell me
about the time he helped paint the Roberto Clemente bridge
underneath without a harness I believed him.
Because when his face is flecked with semi-gloss
he is oblivious to the off white burning.
Because in half an hour he’ll be done
and Billy Kays has 3 dollar shots and beers for happy hour.
And I know this because I once burned down my 25 year old lungs
painting in rooms without windows,
because I needed money and was young
and my lazy prick of a boss said do it.
Because it’s the liquor that saves us,
shots of Jack being cheaper than anesthesia.
Dmitri’s hand shaking when I gave him his check.
Because when he shook off his tarp in the yard,
a confetti of paint dust rained down
and he folded the squares perfectly
as if it was ceremony, leaving nothing behind
but this off kilter air, our wet roof still shining
We don’t talk about inevitabilities,
but when the meteorologist
talks about lake effects and the cold front push
I fold the laundry and watch affected counties
slide across the screen
my hand caught,
skin’s rough palm on your soft shirt.
There are those details anyone might cling to:
The sounds of the roads,
impassable slush at 3am.
They say it may fall all night like this.
So hard to predict
these cold and warm fronts coming together.
I’ve left your slip, your dresses in the basket--
velvet arms folded across its chest.
You are sleeping and outside a neighbor
somewhere is trying to start a car.
Trees hang glimmering
like old fashioned chandeliers. The branches,
so full of snow almost touch the ground.
She rubs the touch screen like a genie’s lamp,
her three wishes flashing in digital print--
answers and helpful hints swimming before her.
The crap craft ideas for making a lamp out of forks,
or a hot glued heart, pink and red buttons stuck
to a Styrofoam core.
She holds together memories until they harden--
crimson buttons from her mother’s coat,
pink clasp from a baby shoe,
making room on the kitchen table
by pushing her pill bottles to the side
Her cell, flashing voice mails from her son’s school
Please call us next to unpaid bills,
a catalogue for macramé, The CAT scans of a back,
her twisted spine , a pipe cleaner cactus.
In a series of phone calls and texts,
she keeps asking everyone she knows
for something red, it could be a button,
some scrap of fabric from a shirt,
anything small enough to be glued ,
tacked down, cover that white double shape,
something with enough red in it
to call it a heart.
After the reading, she kept saying Beautiful as in the poems,
though I kept thinking of the tortoise shell clamp
grasping the back of her hair as she walked
away, the door of the bookstore closing,
clang of door chimes on glass, unintentional slam
of metal on frame.
Beautiful, excitable chatter of poets,
crisp stacks of chapbooks, spines unbroken by discovery.
Beautiful, the new cheese in the back, cheddar orange
the crackle of wrapper, thin plastic seeking the memory of its shape.
Beautiful, the Amish wine, Dandelion or Strawberry.
I can only remember the purple Llama on its label, smiling.
Beautiful, the sound of a book being pulled, swish
of leather, a novel rubbing another’s back as it’s taken off the shelf.
Beautiful, the chairs being stacked up, their slim chrome legs,
their elegant scalloped backs.
Beautiful, each friend leaving, a hand on an arm, a kiss
each Good bye, I’ll see you soon. The song in their throats.
Beautiful, lights going out, beautiful smear of hands
on glass door, the light-caught ghosts of touch.
Beautiful, the sound of their shoes on wet ground,
shimmer of asphalt, the speckled light they walk on.
Beautiful, the books left alone to gather dust
stand on their spines in the dark,
the quietness of their own folded thoughts.