by Mark Trechock
Painting the Corners
At the August community clean-up-fix-up-paint-up
Extravaganza, put on by the non-profit do-gooder
Sector, shed of our Sunday or Monday best,
Paintbrushes in hand, rags dangling
Self-consciously from our back pockets,
We tried to imitate workers on a home
Improvement TV show, determined to tidy up
A crumbling stoop-fronted brownstone
Property until it rivaled the Taj Mahal.
By eleven it was hot and wet as a Turkish bath.
We took water breaks every fifteen minutes,
Pulled out our cell phones every five.
Blinded by our own sweat, we tossed screwdrivers
And Stanley knives willy-nilly into the thick grass,
Wanting only air conditioning and beer.
My job after lunch was painting the window
Frames on the shady side of the house, rotten
In places and covered, by conscientious
Or masochistic previous efforts, with at least four
Layers of white enamel, ivy swirling
Down, as tangled as a family tree full of
Second marriages, children out of wedlock,
Petty criminals and enemies of the state,
Covering the casement latches, and patrolled
By squadrons of dive-bombing wasps.
Pulling back the vines from the second window
Ledge, I uncovered a faded purple and yellow
Easter egg, which must have somehow escaped
The proving fingers of last April's hunters,
If not those from a previous spring,
And all I waned to do was to run and tell
My fellow workers in a voice left over
From childhood, "Come and see."
We took turns bearing the urn
Up the trail--father, son and me--
Sweating under suit coats
And ultraviolet rays,
Needing to stop for water
When our turn would come,
The face of the Rockies
Rising up from Red Hill Pass
Disclosing no opinion,
Beneath us tectonic plates executing
Their slow-motion danse macabre.
We stopped to catch out breath,
Then lumbered ahead into the shade
Of an aspen, where Jack, on a tilted
rectangle of land he and Kristina had owned,
Produced a eulogy of tears,
Her young beauty, the cancer,
The retirement cabin never built,
The urge to drive straight to Mexico
And to hell with it all,
God's punishment for deeds
He thought he had forgotten.
His son remained silent;
He had heard it before.
Drunk in advance, Jack poured out
The powder that had been Kristina,
Coating our Polished oxfords,
Then broke out a bottle of Scotch
Thick with the residue of drizzle,
Must and peat, but as we descended
Into the sun and scrub pine,
It tasted more like wildfire,
And created the sensation
Of instant melanoma.
When we reached the Jeep
At the dust and gravel trailhead,
The whiskey was all but gone.
Wading into the ocean for the first time,
My love laughed suggestively
And said it felt like foreplay,
The way the waves crept up her legs,
Then let out her tiny scream
Prematurely, you might say,
When she felt fish brushing her ankles.
They've been waiting for you, I said.
Later, the sun dived under
The umbrella on the restaurant patio
And began to blister our pink flesh,
Which we treated with margaritas.
Red snapper came to our table,
In an altered form, wrapped
In onions, butter and tinfoil, which
We plundered for the last scraps.
Once darkness tell, the earth's giant
Wash basin, swirling for now with oxygen,
rolled like a restless sleeper, breathing
In rhythm for several measures, then
Exhaling raggedly, snoring and shuddering,
Buffeted by nightmares that cannot
Be remembered and may
Or may not come true.
Leaning against the bar, the manager,
And the taxi driver we hired in advance,
Waited with the patience of the poor
For us to exhaust the moment,
Dig into our wet pockets for pesos
And dismiss them from the day's service
To our common world of dreams.
Three deer survey me trudging
Up the November windbreak unarmed,
Between the disintegrating pavement
That leads from Streeter to Gackle
And unharvested cornstalk rustling faintly,
Rooted in crusts of sandy loam.
Nonchalant, the creatures turn north,
Nothing to see here, just a leftover man
Fascinated still by inventory,
Counting and picking the plastic sacks
Snagged in the Russian olive branches,
White and gray and blowing, like the sky,
Neither I nor the deer are hurrying,
Nor are the sacks about to rush off--
Maybe thirty-three so far, I have lost track,
Nearly halfway to the section line,
Where the trees end at the gravel road,
And empty pasture on the other side.
For the sake of accounting, then,
Or some other abandoned practice,
I estimate seventy sacks at journey's end--
All filled with takeout burgers once,
Or eggs or bread or frozen pizza,
Laundry soap, cosmetics, cigarettes--
Artifacts we clung to and took stock of
In the days when we thought we needed them,
Before we emptied out their contents
And let the wind drive them here.
Trapped, they sway to no purpose,
Rise up, inflate, collapse.
Mark Trechock published his first poem in 1973, gave creative writing up in 1993, then started writing and publishing again 2015. Recent acceptances include Pembroke; Weber--The Contemporary West; Triggerfish; and Mobius. He retired from heading a western North Dakota rural community organizing effort in Dickinson ND, but he has also lived in Denver and in Minneapolis, where he was born. He has additionally spent long sabbaticals in Peru and Argentina.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-483-4672 or 211-6th Ave., W. Dickinson ND 58601.