The poet Richard Hugo, who grew up in this neighborhood when it was still filled with woods, once wrote:
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall
the lines are from the poem “degrees of grey in phillipsburg”
i sipped espresso earlier and wanted to write my own degrees of grey
the baby loaded canned food into a miniature stroller
and trucked around the house
i thought maybe i’d write after i got some Things done
paid bills, and laughed with the baby as he fed me raisins,
both of us laying on the kitchen floor
talking about birds,
each in our own language.
later i watched a raven alight on a power line in the wind,
then stubbed my toe on a can of tomato paste
scrubbed the diaper bucket
extricated a penny from someone’s tiny cheek
measured our unfinished windows for trim
that night while my husband fed the baby beans and rice
and the rain came down sideways
then paused to let a near full moon glow through wind driven clouds
I heaved opened the garage door
and laid out long pieces of smooth pine on sawhorses
Annie the dog laid by my feet, keeping a close eye on the outside
and i learned how to stain wood.
which turned out to be a much more mindful task than i’d expected
i made mistakes, noticed where i’d applied the stain too heavily
or where the shadow my body threw had fooled me into using too little
i think of my craftsman father while i work,
and Roger Lyons, who built things for his mother in this garage
when they were both old
these boards will become trim around the windows in our bedroom
which is drafty like a barn.
(on cold days we can see our breath before we get out of bed)
Once this piece of land had a barn,
with cows, chickens, pigs, and rabbits.
Annie Lyons raised 6 children in this two bedroom house
which she and her husband purchased at the height of the Great Depression
Maybe she went to church with Richard Hugo’s grandparents,
who raised him
and said little.
Maybe they shopped at the same neighborhood pharmacy
in a brick building that is, most recently, a Cambodian grocery.
i want to write about living in his old neighborhood
and being a waitress whose hair shimmers in the dark of a brewpub
moving in between close tables with a master’s degree
and a grace that she lacks outside of work.
She met ranchers with this kind of grace while doing graduate research in Nevada
men who could shear a sheep without nicking it once,
handling the hundred pound animals like armfuls of silk
who became all knees and scuffed boots in the kitchen.
she is a waitress who ten years ago kept the phone numbers men left
never intending to call a single one of them
just quietly flattered because she never thought anyone would find her beautiful
Now she knows the truth:
every waitress in the history of waitresses
has been loved for the duration of a meal
by lonely hearted diners
who coudln’t help but
“instantly feel a tender regard for her” as Abbey wrote.
I want to write about the timeless poetry of the unrequited waitress crush
and the quiet satisfaction of knowing that someone is a little awed
every time you hoist a tray to your shoulder
and take the stairs
but first i need to wash every dish we own
the baby is wearing soft pajamas with nonslip feet
and stacking blocks while the dog watches with her head cocked.
i am listening to ambient unclassifiable music that claims to be
moody and dynamic instrumental indie rock
ought to drink tea now
but my espresso percolator is calling darkly to me from the burner
stained by a thousand rounds over the heat
handle missing, angular spout pointing toward an empty mug.
the car that brought us here still runs
although the return of the check engine light is as certain as the oncoming fall.