Samantha Malay

Albany

 

for a while he worked at a school up the road

and told us not to talk to the boys who lived there

but trouble started inside our house

 

the hole in the rug

the beet-stained cloth

the dark-winged insect in the unslept night

 

haste hid his plan

and a dearth of kin

like the letters in the glovebox

from friends who fed our animals

and doubted our return

 

the unclasped necklace

the bruise on the knuckle

the heat of the day trapped in the car

at a gas station pay phone

in a town we didn’t know

 

see the bend in the river

where he longed for the coast

and numbered the things he could part with

 

stand on the porch

of the house near the train tracks

where we curled on the floor

in one room together

and outgrew our clothes

by the end of that winter

 

 

Sift

 

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?

 

 

Lament, 1971

 

Put your feet in the creek,

sit next to me in the shade.

 

Do our voices idle between the books and clothes and dishes we left behind?

 

Unlock the secrets of the language we used to speak.

Hold on, even as meaning unravels.

 

Laundry swings on a clothesline, blocks out the sun. There is a storm coming.

 

Keep still.

 

We make a circle, five of us, like fingers on a hand.

 

Bees swarm where the faucet drips.

 

Pull away, baby boy, from the gestures we inherit.

 

 

Refrain

 

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.

 

Turn the radio on.

 

Were they led by bravery or hunger?

 

The men who knew him then turn to each other now.

 

Signal and refrain.

 

 

Samantha Malay

 

Samantha Malay was born in Berlin, Germany and grew up in rural eastern Washington State. She is a theatrical wardrobe technician by trade, a writer and a mixed-media artist. Her poem/collage ‘Rimrock Ranch’ was exhibited at Core Gallery in Seattle, Washington in January 2017. Her poem ‘Gather’ was published by The RavensPerch in May 2017, and her poems ‘Rimrock Ranch’ and ‘Homestead’ appear in the summer issue of Sheila-Na-Gig.

 

 

Instant Grammar Checker - Correct all grammar errors and enhance your writing.

Leave a Reply