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Deafening jackhammer echoes sound
through the garage, ricochet off concrete
as I walk to my car. In some other place or
even here some other day, the repair sounds
could make me fly for cover, shield
my face from raining glass. But I
am blessed, swaddled in a place of
bags bulging with ripe fruit, fresh meats,
no insects buzzing at my children’s eyes.

From the beginning the question is
the end, the answer, faint and personal,
already visible in the nursery nightlight
throwing tall shadows on the wall
behind the crib: who learns to crouch,
breath held, at sudden sound, who takes
for granted a garage might need loud
repair, whose shining food is cut
to size by unseen hands, who is
born to scratch at barren earth,

Yesterday, the damp earth smell rising around us,
we mounded up the ground,
breaking the hard clods with our fingers
to sift them gently down.
(How you would have loved
that all our backs bore
muddy evidence of hugging.)
Today we wake alone, resume
irrelevant breathing,

recognizing even the best end badly—
leaving, being left—
the difference merely temporary.
Lemmings, we run
to what destroys us,
condemned to give our hearts
to what is mortal.

We guard ourselves,
against the heavy sunlight,
hard-wired to crave the touch
that burns us every time,
the choice resting
in our own wounded arms—
hold back: we dry and shrivel
embrace: we are undone.

for Jason

previous poem


Container Gardening

Distant Relation


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©2004 Ellen Steinbaum

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