Cost and Use

Velvet slippers, one on the sidewalk, the other, debris
in a yard. A vanished woman, split in two by mesh fence.
At midnight, she walked barefoot. At midday, a man
faces the Latin Chef window. He reads the menu, his eyes

eat each item. His hands spread the wallet, his eyes
count each dollar. In one history, this is the end.
In another, a beginning. Along the block, people tend
their yards. Beatrice can see who remembers the country, crammed

into buckets of dirt, cantilevered on old boards, farmed
with okra, basil, tomatoes, aloe, cilantro, blue corn,
bitter melon. Twine takes bean vines up into a crown,
a shawl of shade. How frightened she was when she moved

into the four rooms, no yard, no way to grow her food.
To eat she always has to sell something. Her deft hands,
like women who paint roses by the hour, fancy designs
flowering on the edges of plates they can't afford to buy.

Or words that she strings together, ideas of things, dry
fertile seeds made by the sunflowers now turning their heads
in an arc of light in the yard beside her:

                                                             Between thought and deed,
she is rife with words, enough and not worth a penny a pound.

But they answer a need sharp as hunger and thirst. They feed the doubt
that gnaws on habit and the past. They pay for the act that breaks free.

:: Minnie Bruce Pratt, Walking Back Up Depot Street (1999)



One winter the basement flooded
and mice invaded the kitchen, so I laid

baited traps in the lower cabinets
and waited. Back then, I worked all day

stringing rafters, framing the roofs
of houses I couldn’t imagine buying,

then stopped on the way home to drink
a pitcher or two with friends at the tavern

and pick up a six-pack to finish after dinner.
I liked cooking, but I wasn’t so big

on washing dishes. Usually I just left them
stacked up in the sink. I’d been reading

The Brothers Karamazov, pushing a little farther
into it each night—feet on the hearth, a blanket

around my shoulders, the house cold as Moscow—
and when the first mouse found the cheese

I was half asleep. I might have missed the sound
of the wire snapping down on his neck

if the kill had been clean, but it wasn’t.
In fact, it took that mouse a good ten minutes

to die. I don’t remember where I was
in The Brothers Karamazov, but the mouse

was in the empty cereal drawer,
flopping around, rattling the platform

of his trap against the walls and floor
of the dark, little room he had crept into,

looking, I guess, for something better than what he had,
something he might use to improve his situation.

:: Joseph Green, in Vox Populi


Abandoned Farmhouse

Why did they walk away,
leaving their house
alive as a dog
and desperate here on its own?

Maybe the Bank turned them out
and the panicky house had to hear them
pacing, pacing across its mind
till the key pinned a meaning in place
and left it there to go feral
the garden tendril by tendril slipping
into the woods.

Or maybe the man couldn't take
his wife's windows descrying,
refusing communion,
letting his soul's skin be the price
for dragging his boots through a room.
The fan of glass
over the door
shamed him, he had to head out.

The house has no will this winter
to cover her face from the wind.
So bent on collapsing
into the cellar,
resolving at last
her agony there:
the incomprehensible plumbing,
the foot on the stair.

:: Mary Rose O'Reilley, Half Wild (2006)