The woman in your old house recalls
your grandmother, who died in 1953,
though your own kids now have kids,
though this slight, bent woman speaks
no Slovenian, and doesn’t know you.
Do you know you? Your father sifts
through your face, your temper. When
you laugh, your mother pours out
from lips, breath, syllables, cells.
Over time, the house has shifted and
she struggles walking. So, order lumber.
Cut wedge shaped joists and level the floor.
Jacking floor joists would just make
trouble for her. Do you want to replaster
as well? It’s not about the house.
Prevent her stumbling. She’s grandmother.
The Fox knew this, and the Potowatami:
we arrive, copulate, get born, and die,
but we never leave. The faces that look
familiar—are familiar. Also the strange ones.
The midnight weeping behind a road’s
roaring semis seems inconsolable.
On your way for lumber, listen
as others listened while hauling hides
to the French. Hear it as you go.
In Matthews’ Collected, a folded note
marks a page on which he wonders
at our frail humanity—how we wrap it
in gauzy idiom. Crazy, that my bookmark
has stuck, holding no place while
I read in my odd way, skipping back
from both ends or opening at random,
like a proof-texter, all the time
thinking I should return the book
to a patient pal who lent it
five years back, but mostly I just
start over each time I find it
(beneath a bedside table, buried
on my desk, wherever I leave what
I can’t bear to shelve) as though
a friend has dropped in after years
to talk. How did I drift so long
before reading these poems?
I open the note’s musty, lame,
excuse scrawled on a medical pad
and read how my not-quite-
believable student justified
her absences and missing work.
Nothing remains of her in my brain
except braids and poor attendance.
The vague appeal might’ve pleased
Matthews—so kind about our hunger,
and his, for third chances. The bright
room where our class met held kids
passionate to be elsewhere. Now
they are, having somehow entered
the “new economy.” Matthews lies
dead, enduring, unruffled by a note
holding page 98.
“It was a long time ago,”
we are tempted to say
as our parents once did,
staring into a breech most
irreparable, though we now
know as they knew that
the lost sweated in pain and desire,
cried out during love and seem
more real than the vivid kids
who wait with us at the wifi
coffee shop; but we’ve no more
sense to offer than our folks
had as news from Vietnam
awakened wounds, dreams
undone in an older war
of exotic river deltas where
familiar names were snuffed,
to be spoken only in whispers
accompanied by gasps,
emotions we’d never match
with their stagy, grainy snaps.
Though the lie grates,
the day nears when we’ll
offer up such lines and
watch them circle the truth
like so many nervous dogs.
First Warm Day
Ride past the lake, where doomed
ice maintains a grip on one end.
Frigid geese bark and harumph.
The blue above would break your heart
if you let it. Grit against the wind
and look away. You flinch
like this when your kids become
iridescent, lost in play, late
light angling in to frame them
there forever. Dodge a cave-in
where winter savaged the roadbed
and pedal toward the road’s next crest.
Copyright © 2013 Michael Lauchlan
has had poems in many publications including The Tower
Journal, New England Review, Virginia
Quarterly Review, Victory Park, North American
Review, Ninth Letter, Apple Valley Review, Nimrod, Cider
Press, The Cortland Review, Waccamaw, Dark Horse, and
Innisfree. He has been included in Abandon Automobile,
from Wayne State University Press and in A Mind Apart,
from Oxford University Press. He has recently been awarded
the Consequence Prize in Poetry.