Proximity

by Wendy Miles


1.

When the woman’s husband took sick
the dog showed up in her backyard.
It gulped old butter beans dumped
in the field at the corner of the fence.

Visitors filled the house but the beagle
shied from touch. She got biscuits, ham,
slept in the ditch across the road. A bowl
was filled with water, weighted with a rock.

Dry dog food was sprinkled in the grass.
When the woman walked to the mailbox
she listened for the claw-tick on the road,
felt that living thing’s breath at her heels.

2.

The teenage girl down the street
lingers near a boy, his polished car
parked quickly, in the wrong direction.
He leans forward, thrums the steering wheel,

door flung into her parents’ light-heaped yard.
Music floats between them. The muffled bass
kicks. She bends one arm, holds an elbow
from behind her back. He’s inches from the curb.

Birds peck through the grass near the house.
He’s one step from her lean arms, tanned legs.
Her toes curl the rough curb while her soles
—creamy—flash like halves of the moon.

3.

They’re gone now, the old couple. Him,
Parkinson’s. Her, a fallen bladder, a split knee.
The neighbor took up mowing. He weeded
around the stoop and the silent white urns.

The geraniums went stemmy, stained
red wherever petals fell. In the newspaper
there’s a picture—a woman who disappeared
thirty years ago. Her eyes will always be green.

When the weathered birdhouse fell
it didn’t crack apart but lay on its side.
The neighbor lifted it, leaving a mark
where it had been like a wound undressed.

4.

Every year it was the smell of cedar.
The black cat, back arched in screech
on the picture-window. The pumpkin-man,
elbows pinned to the front door, hands limp.

Until October all the dark paper things
that opened into tissue pumpkins, or moons
lined the chest in my mother’s room. Once,
I returned a scarecrow, its body halved like wings,

and I saw my parents’ letters bundled with string.
I pinched one loose, slipped it under my shirt.
Then the red-jet airmail stamp, my mother’s name,
the empty pocket I found beneath an already cut seam.