Five for the Roofer

He sits on the roof
at the peak of an A in the sky
and breathes.
It’s the sound of every hammer
he’s swung at this height,
each slow climb
up the extension ladder, shouldering
composition bundles,
their dead weight.

My mother in the kitchen below,
waiting for her mother to die.
The wind lifting the pheasants
away from our dog
in the yellowing fields.


Because he always climbs up
with rusty coffee cans
full of his father’s hand-forged nails,
the whittled stub of a pencil,
a chalk line, spirit level.
It’s as beautiful to him
as a pool of sparks,
as the lights
of the hardware store shining
all day on bins of screws—
those tiny spiral staircases
he collects by the handful.


I’ve been watching my father
all morning,
how he’s pushed rolls of tarpaper
across the slope,
running the dark edge
down a chalk line
so carefully
it looks like he’s been bending over
a star chart unrolled forever.


Only at night will she notice
the white crawling through his beard,
the sound of his knees like breaking twigs,
the old timbers of the house
settling on the foundation.

In bed, he thinks himself back to the roof.
Imagines working under the moon,
a glowing C-clamp of sky,
rain patch, metal-flashing.
He runs his hammer hand
along the peak of the roof,
the length of my mother’s back.

Jawline. Cheekbone.

He reaches out to her
with the five hearts of his hand.

:: Michael McGriff, Dismantling the Hills (Pittsburgh, 2008)

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