THAT SUMMER THAT YEAR DURING THE HEAT WAVE
What did we think sitting there
on the front porch, without fear, none at all,
no surprise or shock,
barefoot, slow breathing, the sun
unyielding even under elm and maple,
thirty-five years ago,
I wasn’t yet twelve, my sister not ten, the city
months from the riots after the World Series?
Two men ran down the middle of the street,
the one in front yelling
(how far he made it—
the ice cream parlor, the diner, the liquor store, the bowling alley—
I can’t say), and the other one,
chasing after him, aiming a shotgun, he looked at us
I saw all his teeth.
George killed men in the war.
Which men, which war, he doesn’t say, I don’t ask.
The flowers in his yard, poppies or anemones,
are the most beautiful on the street.
The brothers next door celebrate with shots
to the moon. Falling rain wets their foreheads,
their shingled rooftop, the tall pines rising above the chimney,
the soaring tips of their bullets.
The chemistry or calculus teacher, Janet or Janice,
her dog shits on my grass, she never picks up after.
The one time I said something, at the curb,
she told me her son, tall and handsome, had turned on himself.
She touched her temple. “Went this way, straight through.”
The accountant cannot get rid of the vine
creeping and covering the shrubs alongside his house.
After the divorce he stopped on a bridge,
leaned and let the weight slip into a current
flowing fast to the Atlantic.
The dirt, damp with rain, is older than the sprouting grass.
And shadowing the grassy spikes, the oak trees
with brittle limbs that never fall
on the mailman walking across the lawn are older
than the house, and the house,
in a neighborhood once a forest, is older than the boy and girl
refusing to eat green beans—
they love candy, but less than they love their mother.
The girl is older than the boy,
the boy older than the cat, and the cat,
which cannot communicate what it knows
about age, hates the cactuses on the windowsill—
a conqueror in the night, he paws and paws,
and breaks, then marches
into the bedroom, across my stomach, and halts
on my chest—his warm breath and wet nose
young as the new moon, barely a crescent tonight,
twenty-two years after you died. O,
mother, I am older now than you ever would be.