A Phone Call Would Not Do


I thought I heard my dad through the garage door sawing lumber. Winter clouds killed the green in the grass. I knocked softly, my breath steamed. The door opened, candles lined the entrance. My father was diligently cutting my brother’s blue Triumph with a hacksaw. The tire and rear axle looked eaten, and the oil lines dribbled their contents on the floor.

He placed the saw on the workbench.  “I’m sorry, this was a bad idea.” Oil made it past the candles into the driveway. “How is mom holding up?” he asked. He crawled for sweat rags to clean the mess.
“She’s fine Dad. Still reeling, but handling.”
He shivered in his dirty undershirt. He walked through the oil, over candles, and outside to stand on the dying grass. I followed.
“Do you think your brother would care about the bike?” .
I said, “No.”
He exhaled,  and his breath shimmered. “Are you just saying that?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I am just saying that.”
He turned his head to the garage to watch the candles. “I could’ve given it to mom.” He chuckled.                                                                                                                                          “She hates it just as much as you do.” I said.
He said, “She hates me just as much as I hate it.”
I said,  “Mom doesn’t hate you.”
“You’re just saying that too!” He shouted, loud.  “I’d hate me; I gave him the damn thing.” He shivered, and after a few moments of looking at the candles he sat down on the grass, and placed his folded hands over his mouth. I think he cried.
Standing, I turned to look at the flames near the oil

“Dad, you know oil will burn right?”
No response.

I wondered what it would be like to be dead. I wondered what would happen if my father decided to give the bike to me instead of him. I wondered if my brother would appear on a new bike, if it would be silent or wake us up if we slept towns apart.
I sat down with him, the oil in the dirt wet my jeans, I kept seeing my brother in the corner of my eye, even as I made an effort to put my hand in his hand.  The breeze picked up, the tufts of smoke wisped from the candle tops, then vanished.
“I’m sorry dad. I hope you know that.”
“I do, I am too.” It took a while for him to get up, but when he did, my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness. I stood inside his warm house, waiting for him to come back in. Even in his white shirt, he blended with the night.


My father bought the old Blockbuster that closed down after the Internet age and made it into a store which held thousands of knick-knacks. Some were his, but most were my mother’s ceramic cats that weren’t more than three inches tall. We didn’t even own a cat, but she kept them everywhere. He argued that he made good out of the stuff she left behind. I let it go.

The power hadn’t been turned on. I was afraid of the dark, so I took the storage boxes off the truck bed and placed them on the ground outside the entrance. My dad cleared the doorway, bending over and grunting. He lifted two boxes instead of one.

“Aren’t you excited to be here?” disappearing into the store again.

“Yeah, I am.” I said.

He turned and stood next to me, “Well, you don’t sound like it. You haven’t moved anything inside.” He hadn’t brushed his teeth in a few days, or done anything other than drive from our old home, Maine, to Florida.

“I know.” I said.

“C’mon, we’ve been talking about this for months!”

“You have. I haven’t.”  I took another thick cardboard box and placed it on the ground. Dad didn’t use packaging, and I heard some of the cats break when I put it on the ground. “When is the power going to turn on? I can’t set these things up in the dark.”

He said, “We both know we needed to get out of that house.” He took the box I put down and lugged it inside.

My shoulders were red hot. I thought, maybe we’ll burn up like mom did. Although my mom died of a fever, but I imagine it felt the same.

A banged up car with doors and bumpers of different colors pulled into the lot next to our truck. A man and woman inside were shouting at each other. I could see her shoulders clench, and his eyes were watering, but I couldn’t tell if it was his sweat or tears. The man got out and slammed the door.

“I’m done! I’ll find another way home.” He pulled his wedding ring off his finger, flung it at her face through the open window, and started diagonally across the lot to the freeway. She sat and stared at the steering wheel in front of her. My father came out of the store and watched the man go. He went to her window and knocked.

“Ma’am,” he said, “are you alright?”

She tossed her gold ring alongside his on the dashboard, and opened the door.

She said, “If he’s not going to hear what I have to say, then I can’t have him around.”

“What did he do?” My father asked.

She crossed her arms, “He didn’t want to work anything out.”

Like Dad, he started. “Don’t you have a life back home? What about your family?”

“I can do whatever I want with my life,” she tensed.

They paused. “Do you know where you’re going to go?” He asked.

She leaned up against her car, head down. “What are you doing here anyway?” she said.

He almost turned around and went back inside, but stopped himself. “My son and I are starting a business.”

She walks past him and looks down into the box. “With this junk?”

“This isn’t junk.” He goes to pick up the box, and quickly brings it inside.

She calls after him “Well, good luck with selling broken cat dolls!”

“You can leave now.” I said, and followed Dad back into the shop.

“Dad, are you okay?”

“It’s nothing. We’re almost done, here, help me with this,” gesturing to the box. We lifted it on to the checkout counter in back. My mother’s Topaz necklace was on top. He took it and put the jewel and chain in his back pocket.

“We should take all this stuff back home and give it away. Mom had good taste, some people might like them.” I said, looking at him as he rifled.

“That’s why we’re selling them. We’ll make money that way. Tourists always want little knick-knacks like this, they can’t get enough of it.” He took a few of the cats and started lining them on the wire shelves.

“Dad, let’s be real here…”

“No, it’s okay.”


He lined up tiny cats on the shelf until there was no room left. He picked up the empty cardboard box and put it behind the counter with the rest of them. “I’ll try the lights.” He said, going to the front of the store and trying all of the seven light switches. None of them worked.


“The power company said the lights should’ve been on by now.”


He left me inside to check the fuse box. I walked through the aisles, looking at all the cats. Some of them were out right missing paws and tails, and I took those off the shelves and put them back in the cardboard boxes. My dad came back through the doors and immediately noticed a few missing knick-knacks.

“My god, were getting robbed already.” He said.

“Some were broken, I put them away so we can fix them.”

“They’re fine just the way they are! We are gonna be fine.”

I grabbed his shoulders. “What are we going to do when we run out?” I had never done that before. I let go of him.  “Can we make more?”

“We don’t need any more, we have so many.” He brushed me off, and went to go put the broken knick-knacks back on the shelves.


What?” He snapped.

I haven’t heard him raise his voice since mom died.  I stuttered. “We can’t sell mom’s stuff. No one will buy it.”

“We have talked and talked about this. I couldn’t stand sleeping in the same house that mom died in. Could you? I couldn’t live seeing all those little cat knick-knacks with the beady eyes she kept everywhere. It was like she was always looking at me. I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t let you feel that way either.”

I looked around at all the knick-knacks. “How could you get away from her if you brought everything with us? How can you get rid of her?”

“Don’t you say that,” He said, “don’t you say that.”

“Dad.” I took a tiny cat off the shelf and put one in a cardboard box.

All at once the florescent lights crackled on. The wire shelves were rusted, and the green carpet crumpled at the edges of the vinyl wood walls.  Mom’s cats looked better than I’ve ever seen them.

Dad took the Topaz necklace out of his pocket and stared at it. He reached into the box and put the broken cat back on the shelf, and another one, and another one.

I told myself I would try again tomorrow. I let it go.

Day Three After Death

You now live in your pronouns: in your nameless identifiers, in the outline on cracked asphalt, in the too few evidence markers. Maybe if I say your’s enough I could shape the rest of you out of those cherry stems, the green ones we spat out knotted on the fire escape.

But you—no. She—no.

Something is missing. To magnify a chalk outline on the pavement, I need something more than futile hope, more than a neighborhood waiting for the unapt obituary. We need a name; but even I can’t say it. Instead, we pray to the “you” and “she” and “her’s” and “ours”, speak of you in every sentence we have left to say.

A Sermon from the Trees


My face in the pond

reminds me of the years when trees

hung bouquets of leaves

from spry branches.


But with this inevitable fall,

their green noise retreats

into emptied and subdued

space. But now,

in brittle

silence, I shout.


The trees

echo me, beg for their leaves,

raise my earthy ghost,

teach me their desperate spiritual,

lend me their remaining roots.


Now, the highway will

creep through the sticks.

The antenna will

puncture the sky.

Now, will I fall silent.


In the shadow

of our rusted steel,

I will listen for pooling water,

look to find my eyes

in its tremors.

The Badlands

  In response to Edward Hopper’s painting Western Motel (1957).

She sat up on the new bed, against the new wall with the pleated drapes. The room (that sprouted with modern efficiency) was without cupboards, cabinets or a homely dresser. The window welcomed the curves of the western hills as company, but would not let her see the shadows in those badlands. The room, built for stuffed leather-suitcases and singular hung-up jackets could not contain her feet, hankering for open road, and her dress, yearning to be held.

Again, she, and everything she owned, prepared to leave for elsewhere.

There will be no bursting when she breaks the window. No shattered glass (or in this case, rippled canvas in the western winds) to pull the travelers along, only the hills keeping secrets from this temporary room. In the hills’ shadows, the unmemorable becomes reluctantly memorable, and the memory of the brief life in an unwrinkled room is the only one remaining.

She hopes for her bags to open, for her hand to scribble her name in sharp red ink on the walls, for her jacket to multiply and scatter, for the carpet to smell like her feet, for her car to rust to the earth, for the drapes to hide the creeping hills. But she stares for movement in the room. She hopes for her hand to release, hopes for it to remain.