Not long after my father dies
we hear noises from up in the attic —
no one’s been there for years —
thumps and grunts, squeaks and squeals.
My mother still sets that one empty place
at the table, and now she bangs
the plates down harder than ever.
The string beans do sloppy somersaults.
The mashed potatoes spill over the edge.
She’s trying to drown out the racket.
When we can’t stand it any longer
we draw straws and I get the short one.
We dust off the cobwebs from the old
wooden stepladder down in the basement;
scraping and skittering, I haul it
up the stairs. I push the trapdoor open
with the top of my head and at first it’s hard
to see, there’s so much dust, so little light,
and the noise is like sticking my head in a cage
full of peacocks. Things take a little while
to sort themselves out; when they do
there’s nothing but wooden crates
and cardboard boxes piled
from the floorboards up to the roof,
their sides bulging, their lids
popping with a cacophany that’s turning
into words I can’t make out.
It’s the skeletons of ambition,
muffled in heavy uniforms,
marching to forgotten slogans, recruiters
for all the battles my father fled.
He used to take me to the circus.
He loved the dancing bear. He said
if you weren’t rude enough to stare
it could pass for human.
From Distance From the Locus