Michael Lauchlan




Used Books

the writing of our time most

likely to survive is graffiti.

—Chase Twitchell, “Skeleton” 

A reader highlighted two lines

but left me most of the poems

untouched as morning snow

 

for a Sunday, late in a year

at the end of an empire—my kids

still dreaming their way down

 

twisted streets. So I read,

and write to you, who will sit

in judgment of us, I hope,

 

above high tide. I wish you

the best in food, drink, sleep,

and long love. I’ll let you

 

weigh what we wrought and why.

Though I can’t defend my bit

part, I gleaned a few songs,

 

some poems whose lines

work back through our skin

like splinters. You read this 

 

(as I’ve dreamt you) in a time

beyond my span, and perhaps

you read from an old book

 

with marginalia to divert you.

A morning has now grayed

itself into cold existence.

 

Somewhere students roll over

or rise to their studies. The work

of our time waits in each day,

 

as useless and worthy as ever.

We go to it in shame and hope

as you go to yours. Forgive us.



Next Door

 

In the back of his garage (Christ,

how did he ever get past rakes,

 

shovels, a rusted former lawnmower,

five—count em—weedwhips

in various states of undress, an axe

 

a maul?) he kept a bench built

from scrap lumber in a fit

of optimism when they'd first

 

moved in. Gloria’d wanted him

to fix the screen door, so he made

room for a mitre box and hung a vise

 

on one end. Under a window he kept

assorted screws and nails in jars.

She split when he died

 

and left it to a niece and her guy,

but she asked me to help them

save whatever still had value.

 

We stand in the doorway a while,

as if letting our eyes adjust.

 

To them it’s just stuff they

have to move or toss. The roof

had always leaked a bit. I feel

 

them recoiling from layers of grime

on turps, oil cans, gas cans,

paints, and varnishes and edge

 

my way in, trying to show them

that it’s OK. They’d need tools,

at least some of them, not that

 

these two would ever know

how to use any of this. I drag

them in far enough to see drills

 

and hammers, screwdrivers and saws,

but I can’t say much. Here,

I want to say, he used these

 

wrenches when my pipes froze.

It might freeze hard again

this year. Under the bench, a bright

 

coil left from one last roof

repair. He’d only let me

steady the ladder for him. Here

 

are cut-offs from a swing he made

when my kids were small.

Cedar lasts forever, damn near.


Burning Up

 

They burn up crossing the sky,

these comet shards. We watch,

lying flat in a dark field

catching their traces to ooh

as each one passes. It’s

a slow night, I guess.

No raucous music or wild dancing,

only rocks blazing overhead

at fifty thousand miles-per-hour.

The chill between Altair

and Deneb swallows this

hot effort like a word

spoken into bitter silence.

 

The particles reach three

thousand degrees, which seems

a bit excessive just to thrill

a few campers, a curious child,

a couple lying in a soccer field.

Soon, kids will roam this park

learning to trap, dribble, pass,

and shoot, tramping through mud

enduring wind, learning to work

magic with feet. Magic, as well,

rules the night. Bats

devour mosquitoes by the gross,

navigating blackness by squeak

and beep. Weightless fireflies

mimic galaxies in our yards.

 

My wife sits up and takes

my hand. For years, our kiss

has hung, night by night,

waiting for us. Such a vast

neural catalog of sensation.

What but excess animates

our world? All who work

know how bodies melt

into sweat, how joints rebel.

We’re apt to demand our due

or harbor an ancient grudge.

But only the mad, amid

cosmic extravagance, refuse

a child or withhold a word

that may, released, ignite.






Michael Lauchlan’s collection, Trumbull Ave., is available from WSU Press.








                                    

 

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