Your father almost clips the puppies

starting the motor on the outboard.

They’re playing in the shallow water

near where we moored for the afternoon

but it’s October, and it’s time to go

and your father was born with little patience

for the weak. Just about 11 months ago

your brother overdosed and died

but by then, at least, he wasn’t still at home

sleeping in his childhood bed. Your mom doesn’t

process what your dad is doing with the motor

and the dogs, so she freezes

to the pleather copilot chair. But you,

your fight response kicks in.

Can you not see them, you yell

above the engine’s jaundiced roar. Now

there will be more yelling. Your parents

got the dogs this summer because

time and language are faulty rungs

on a ladder someone else offers.

And anyway why make the effort

when you’re already at the bottom

of the well. Above us a gull, a goose,

a heron—something passes

in the clear and quiet sky; a presence

demanding nothing of our scene below.

In the morning you and I will leave again

for the city, where pigeons, sparrows

and starlings haunt the cracks for bread

and days too full for silence.


Shivaree (traditional): south-central Pennsylvania

Do you remember

what I wore? Work

ing backward, we

finished college in

the morning; took a

final-final in some

basement. I had a

throat infection and

swam an hour

before the ceremon

ies started. By noon

the flags were

unfurled, the tru

mpets blare, and the

townsfolk crowd at

every door to watch

the long black

motorcade crawl up

our historic drag.

Ornamental pear

trees wept their

fluttering blossoms,

anointing the air

like semen, as the

yearly burning al

ways demands the

utmost respect and

pomp.

We are only here for

a good time, I

remind you, but

when I move to

leave one celebrat

ion for another your

slouching posture

tells me I am

wrong. The night

before we’d had

triple whiskey from

our second favorite

bartender; I’d dance

d on laps and s

moked indoors and

no one put me out.

But we‘ve slept so

little lately that now

in the unsentimental

light I mistake a

word less language

for understanding.

So maybe it’s not a

good time, I soothe

but at least it’s not

for ever.

Later we attended

a burning soir e,

where the sun

passed out from

wine and weed and

untenable jubilation.

You sought rem

inders of the past

and reassurances of

the future among

the faces of our

cohort, but those

remaining merely

wept as pear trees in

their final

understanding.

Meanwhile, in the

traffic circle around

which the parade

concluded, revelers

were stacking

faggots, planing

platforms and

raising high the

roofbeams for

the burning’s pyre.

Were you the

bridegroom, taller

than the tallest

man? and I the rail

that Lincoln split to

build his frontier

home.

Lifetimes back a

match was struck

to shape a pillar

wailing through the

desert. I donned

your white linen

blazer as we

approached the

circle and drifting

ash began to fleck

its weave. What’s

everybody waiting

for, I asked among

the faces greased

with paint in antici

pation of dancing

flame reflection

but beneath the

humming breath the

cracking boards and

the slumping of

your hips I never

heard the

answer


J. Freeborn is a teacher and the anthology books managing editor at The Poetry Society of New York. They have recent work in Occulum, Dream Pop, voicemail poems, and elsewhere.

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