The Answering Ice
For Michael Castro (1945-2018)
he answers the phone. He hears blackbirds
meandering their sentences across the sky.
He hears leaves scratching their syllables
across the porch. He can hear what he doesn't
understand and know it is his like the dust
settling on his books. He can tell by
the tone of his voice that he's talking
to his grandmother that is not his grandmother.
He will have little to say and too much.
He will simply go along with whatever is said
to him. He will be evasive, half-hearted,
He knows he must give it all up.
He feels the weight of shadows breaking
the oak's branches. He hears wars unresolving
themselves. He hears the board sliding
from the roof, hitting him in the back of the head
driving his face into the raw dirt. Premonition
or practice? He bursts our laughing.
He can hear a child silently digging to China.
He laughs again when he is locked in the attic.
Another time he falls through the ceiling
His wings not having time to open.
He will have little
to say. He will simply go along. He will
listen half-heartedly. He hears the coming
snow pressing deeply down on itself and on him.
Finally, he asks about the doctor's diagnosis.
She won't know until Thursday. He can hear
cutbanks swelling with cold and the drizzle of dirt
that falls, ringing the creek's thin tongue of ice.
Down Side Help
His mother-in-law can’t remember
how to turn on the TV. He’s explained
the procedure clearly, step by step,
at least once a week, and sometimes
almost daily, for months. He’s suggested
that she leave the TV turned on
and just turn the sound off
if it bothers her, and it does
when she goes to bed and wakes
wondering who is in the living room.
The mute button alludes her.
He types instructions and she can’t
find them. He tapes the instructions
to the side of the TV. Then he tapes
the instructions right above
the on/off button and tapes an arrow
to the remote. Then he types
the instructions in ever-increasing
font size. He continues to drive
to her house whenever she calls
for him to turn on her TV,
After six maybe seven decades of never
being involved in a car accident
or even issued a ticket for her driving,
she is given three by a friendly policeman
in a single month. A few weeks later,
her son-in-law opens the hood
to her new Lincoln Sedan and removes
the distributor cap. Whenever she remembers
that she owns a car and it won’t start,
he says that he will check out the problem
and fix it later in the week. She forgets
and he doesn’t. The police officer, who lives
across the cul-de-sac, on a warm sunny day,
listens to her complaints. He lifts
the car hood and points out
that the car’s distributor cap is missing.
Returning from the auto parts store,
she is soon off and running again.
Walter Bargen has published 23 books of poetry. His work has appeared in over 300 magazines and his awards include a NEA Fellowship, Chester H. Jones Foundation Award, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri. www.walterbargen.com