Stephen Cloud

Broken Main


Someone from Taft Hall calls it in:

flooded grass, stranded cars.

More trouble with the water main.

Every week, the old iron pipe

rusts through somewhere and bursts,

swamping campus lawns and parking lots.


Same old, same old, says the boss

when we reach the scene, three of us

squeezed onto the truck’s bench seat,

staring at the task ahead.

Water bubbles from a spring hole

and spills down the sidewalk.

Lot A has turned into a small lake.


Years ago it was all play time,

splashing around in pools like this.

With the blackbirds I looked for worms;

then an afternoon at the creek

waiting for fish to bite.

Now sloshing is part of the job.


Turn off the main, drive down to the shop,

wait for the water to recede a bit.

Lunch and Paul Harvey on the radio

until the boss says, Max and Stephens

get on up there, dig us a hole.


With each shovelful, water sucks back in.

Boots soak through, feet prune up.


An hour later, our little triad stares down

at exposed pipe, a six-inch split.

Max kneels in the muck to work the hacksaw.

The boss heads back to the shop to fetch some parts.


People watch our work from office windows,

sipping coffee, looking cool in air conditioning.

One suit grins and gives the thumbs-up.


We’re still at it when the secretaries

leave for the day. The boss doffs his hat

and says Ma’am as they pass.

We watch them mince down the sidewalk,

gingerly picking a path around puddles.

The prettiest one slips off her shoes

and tiptoes barefoot to an islanded Mustang—

a real beauty, one slick ride.


Come on now, the boss says,

no looking at the ladies.

We got work to do.


Another four hours and

the busted pipe’s replaced,

the hole refilled, the lawn spruced up.

The summer sun has already set.


Turning on the main again, we know

the next weak spot down the line

will start to feel the pressure,

ready to burst. Give it a week

and we’ll find out where.



Visiting the Asylum


Noises outside: the beating of wings,

a persistent caw, caw, caw.

From the window I see

the evening sun—bloody

through the branches of a dead tree,

a crow perched near the top,

a groundskeeper crossing the leaf-filled lawn.


What did I expect to learn,

making this pilgrimage

just to visit his former room?


There’s passing chatter in the corridor,

the clacking wheels of a cart.

Somewhere a phone rings and rings,

a door clicks shut, footsteps fade.


Did he, too, hear the bird’s mockery?

Did it foretell renewed anxieties,
the advent of the crisis moment?

Did he stumble to this pane,

peering through the mist

of breath on glass, wondering

who called his name?


I imagine the anguish

when desperate for an answer

from God he gazed

upon this hysterical crow

and the black-garbed groundskeeper

now steadfastly lowering the flag.



by Stephen Cloud

After kicking around the West for a while (with stops in Spokane, Flagstaff, and Sedona), Stephen Cloud has settled in Albuquerque, where he’s fixing up an old adobe, working on poems, and pondering the official New Mexico state question: “Red or green?” Recent publications include work in Valparaiso Poetry Review, High Desert Journal, New Madrid, Shenandoah, and Tar River Poetry.

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