Thirty miles west of the last possible exit
to anywhere you might want to be
and the house is suddenly there,
abandoned behind a hill you hadn't noticed
you were ascending. You descend
into dirt and a dozen scattered posts
that might have been a fence
in better times. The front door swings
ajar on the easy breeze, hanging at an angle
on its final hinge. There might be something there
beyond the shadow of the hall--hardwood floors
stained from the occasional blowing rain, a stair
leading down into a cellar a half century removed
from its last ray of light, a single chair in the kitchen,
left behind in your imagined family's hurried retreat.
There might be something there you want to see,
but the day is suddenly later than you thought,
and you're quickly getting farther from where you need to be,
regardless of which way you turn to run.
Strike a match and set these fields ablaze.
Let them all burn, turn to ash, let the smoke
fill the sky until the sun fails for the first time
in months to touch the earth. Run black-footed,
soot-faced, to the choked throat of the dry river -
to where the rotting flesh of catfish and carp
is soaked in the thick buzz of fat black flies.
Uproot the dead that line the bank, break off
low the ones that won't let go, and throw
them over the brink. Set these, too, on fire.
Then head north, or west, past the expanding band
of scorched air, until you reach a place
where no one Goddamns the sky or ground
for what it has done, or what it has failed to do.
Blind to the dump and drag
of this ugly strumpet, I stick
to my story and move along
slowly, more slowly still.
A crease in her skirt
and the grease and grit
of a night shift strung
between desperate fixes
and the next dirty trick
briefly show and I move
along more slowly still.
This is nothing to thrill
a man of my age: the simple
rage that roils in a whore's
belly, turns yellow a dozen
disgusting men a day who slump
back to their wives lying ignorant
in their midlife sleep and dreams,
but I cannot turn to and walk
the empty side of the street.
What misbegotten beat is this
that leaves me lounging against
an alley wall, stewing in my own
shame and sweat, thanking a stranger
as if she'd just finished
serving me lunch?
I have seen how, in the slow burn of summer,
a life of work and faith can rust away
in the high weeds and overhanging limbs
of an abandoned apple grove, how a name
can fade in the daily ascent of the sun, how one
enthusiastic blackberry vine can climb
across the cracked and rotting vinyl seat of a truck,
weave its way along the steering wheel,
and spill onto the dash, pressing itself against
the smoky glass for whatever light it can find.
I have seen the remains of a door dangling
from its failing hinges, left open by the last son
who stepped down from the cab and walked
in whichever direction was away, who walked
until the field, truck, and trees were no longer visible
and his boots had slapped awhile on the hot blacktop
of a country road, who finally stuck his thumb
into the face of a passing line of cars and caught
the first ride out of here.