She comes apart, shirt bunched
about her breasts
and showing hip going to fat—
but not yet.
She turns, skirt falls a little
reveals the elastic line
of white cotton, tag flipped up
like a baited fish hook.
She straightens everything out
with a whisk of fingers, cinches it
all tight with a snap. Nearby,
a breath turns to a sigh.
Coffee spoons tinkle against morning,
she tells me her nightmares—
house-trapped old women,
ghosts asleep on park benches,
walkers and wheelchairs and ventilators.
She touches her cheek, wrinkles spider away,
veins creep along the back of her hand.
I listen and watch and want to remember
when I spread my fingers
across her skin, calm and smooth.
Her face shifts, soft in afternoon sun.
She turns her gaze to me.
Traffic stills; the street hushes.
She kept crackers bedside,
magazines next to the dog,
eyes on the television
nose to the gossip pages.
I used to lie on the pillow
and smell the dog smelling.
The dog is all alone now.
He was once the exploiter
of those who exploited,
found no reason not to reach over the horizon,
see what the world held for him.
But in age, fear grew, clung to him
until he ceased to bring food to his mouth,
and brought his mouth to food.
Photos of firefighter, paratrooper, father
who made his children climb mountains,
build fires, walk deserts.
He thunders across the floor,
the end of an era.
All day, a button push, a key stroke,
a message away from implosion,
stultification like ossification,
like sitting in a small, hot room
with the window stuck closed,
and the door locked, from the outside;
like being in the maw of the beast.
Through grape-heavy trellis
we watched a city effervesce
on the river like dreaming.
We ran barefoot over smooth,
cool cobble stones,
drank wine in the sun.
The vines bloomed, hung with fruit,
were harvested, then pruned and tied.
Waiting for a new season,
the vineyard stood empty.
Snow covered steep paths and rows
above the city and the river.
Now, the cathedral bell tolls at midnight,
echoes through mist on quiet streets.
The stream flows beneath ice
by the old mill as if you never left,
and years hadn’t passed between us.
Ice cold, motionless, silent,
profiles silver and gray—
A ball on the grass,
The grill on the deck,
Chairs in the yard,
Vines, leafless, fence tangled.
The ringing of ice cream truck bells,
robins trilling in dawn, calls of children
hang in the air, crystalline, waiting thaw.
Squares of moon across bare plank;
dust the color of ghosts.
Windows webbed and spiked like teeth.
Snow drifted in the hearth.
In a breath, dust lifts and swirls
through the room like mist.
In the stillness,
a child rasps and heaves.
I rub my hands against the cold,
feel from memory and from genes,
the calluses, the deep joint pain,
the odor of frozen, plowed earth.
Outside, coyotes gather
in the snow, baying
at the moon.
Like leaves, those who can’t find home
scatter. Mangy dogs crane necks,
sniff for the dank smell of shelter.
Twilight falls on my porch swing
and into my coffee cup,
flutters up again with the steam,
orange against the night.