We swam in the river behind the field,
towels flattened on summer-warm sand.
The water was the color of oysters,
and there was a ribbon of light at the base of the mountain
as blue dusk crept along the tree line.
She pulled cigarettes from her purse, wet hair against dry T-shirt.
I thought her words held secrets.
Guessing our way in the dark, a porch light flickered on.
It was the night before the first day of school.
She shaved her legs in the bathtub while I sat on the floor,
listening to her boyfriend plans.
She dried her hair with a round brush, applied frosty pink eye shadow.
I had moved from a bigger town but she was deliberate where I was unsure.
My brother and sister and I lived across the road that led the logging trucks
and school buses into Deming, under the power lines.
One parent was gone and the other disappeared in the dim corners of our rented house.
We washed our clothes in a utility sink and hung them to dry in the barn,
frozen shards when winter approached.
A gallon of milk spoiled in the refrigerator,
and the icy air smelled like cardboard and coffee
and an accumulation of common sorrows.
In smoke-scented, threadbare coats
they’d walked through frozen fields and empty streets
toward whispers of work and pickles, fresh bread and fish,
an address in a port city, yellow flowers at the base of a mountain.
See the curve of her cheek as she turns from the pier,
seagulls loud in the charcoal sky.
They’d dreamt of fruit trees and a food grinder for the new baby.
Between tanks of tropical fish, he eats a sandwich at his workbench
in the hazy pungent air.
Short sleeves show Navy tattoos, the arms of a tinkerer, an appliance repairman.
Branches heavy with plums obscure the potholed alley.
Doorbell. Cars on Orchard Street. A neighbor’s sprinkler.
In summer we walked through the woods,
picking wild strawberries and naming the trails as our own.
The remains of a homestead lay half-buried, roof joists rotting around rusty cans,
books frail and dusty as moth wings. Grass seeds clung to our clothes.
Can you stop time so we can stay together?
In town, he drove with his arm across the front seat
to keep us from hitting the dashboard at intersections.
Leave your coat on when we get there.
He knew these people before he was married. Sad to see us, they asked us to stay.
But by then we’d seen dead animals and fires at the edge of the garbage dump,
smoke lingering in the orange peels and eggshells, cigarette butts and toys.
We’d heard arguments through the floorboards, moved into houses with dirty sinks
and medicine abandoned behind the bathroom mirror.
We’d departed together, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the school year,
to sleep in campgrounds and fields.
We’d listened to the snow muffle our voices as it lit the night sky,
tree boughs soft and heavy and quiet.
We felt the inward pull of family,
like underwater branches against our legs in the lake.
Will you leave us some clues before you go?
We need to know fool’s gold from the real thing,
the names of the people who broke your nose,
and should you kiss the girl on your right when you see a car with one light?
pull the pit from the plum
wash your hair in the sink
open the window
to the mid-August heat
where shadows unspool
between distant trains
and voices in the alley
we will step around
the toys on the sidewalk
and hitchhike in spring
to the edge of the woods
a plane crossed the sky
as we stood in the field
and shook pebbles from our shoes
on our way to the creek
we arrived at the homestead
with untrained hands
and faith in our ability
to find comfort in solitude
daughter, daughter, son
do you see the days we had ahead of us
when the mailbox was empty
and there was nothing left to hock?
did we push our luck
shrug our bond
carry our sorrows to the next town?