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.
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.