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
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?
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.
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.
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 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.