Hearts in Livery

theirs was a one-story ranch style
that same beige brick as the rest of
the block, a dead end but not
a cul-de-sac

there were no cul-de-sacs here
the roads just ended
where they ended, in a field or pasture
or cemetery

the house out on the farm was abandoned
for the amenities of town
we played tag on the hay bales,
rows three and four deep, watching out
so we didn’t catch our ankles in the cracks

I don’t know who owns the farm house,
or the one in town or the car they splurged
on a few years ago, I don’t even
have the decency to hope I don’t end up
being forgotten this easily

not of a will, but ushered
seamlessly
into that next stage,
belongings feathered
into collections of family,
friends, and strangers,
even if we’re buried, laminated
with chemicals and foundation
our lives are scattered about, as if
we were ashes
passed from hand to hand
to hand—
until our car, our house, our plates,
our furniture,
our piano, the drums,
the vases from the wedding,
the rug we bought and never put down
because it made the room too dark,
the table our friends
gave us when we were first married and
living in that tiny two-bedroom in Chicago
…are all discarded.

every time an outsider passes
away, the small town’s in-group
mentality grows stronger, everyone closer,
more narrow-minded and single-voiced,
decrying public issues
long after there isn’t a public
having long since shipped its students
to neighboring Ransom; they get older, each year
bumping up the town’s average life expectancy,
setting a record just before it
plummets to zero
the cattle, once herded by
ex-Navy technicians,
on horseback,
are fed as well as ever
but lack the energy of the old days
Dodge pick-ups roar through
the pastures, along
the parallel dirt tracks where there used to be

one, winding around gullies and a handful

of wind-twisted locust trees; I found a suit
in the closet, we weren’t
finding much of value, some glasses

Grandma showed us things, silly things,
things that probably weren’t ever used

I wonder now if she just wanted us to take
them so she could fool herself into believing
this isn’t how it worked—not for Grandpa

the suit though, I took it and took it in
and wore it on my
wedding day, the sun warm on the brown
of the jacket, on the lawn
—and in their bedroom—
this August day—that other anonymous
a wormhole opened and I jumped

between my life and an old man’s
I barely knew, our hearts in livery,
I saw my dad, who’d lived here all his life
—in the connection, like a folded map—

Tungsten heavy on my hand,
his eyes a murky brown
that held years of unknowing

a promise that he’d tried and
the knowledge that I would inhabit
the same tunnel between him and my children,
after he had become
a wall of boxes, a collection of
white-rimmed slides, files
on our computer which
we eventually transfer, and then erase,
a million moments, crystallized
memories of an imperfect past

—the only kind

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