Aleda Shirley is the author of Dark Familiar (Sarabande Books, 2006).
Taxes due, the anniversary of Henry James’s death,
& a brilliant sky rinsed of pollen & glare by yesterday’s
record rain. From the magnolia in my front yard
the Mexican workers who are here to fix
the foundation of my house have hung their lunches
in grocery bags–they look like large dull light bulbs
that have burned out. When the foreman leaves
on an errand I see the youngest worker struggling to pull
a water hose to the back. Through the window
I tell him there’s another hose in the garbage that will reach,
but he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. Finally
I point & say aqua & all six of them brighten
with comprehension, although I realize later I used
the Latin work, not the Spanish one. The house
was slowly sinking, stairstep cracks along the brick,
fractures in the plaster, the floor of the back bedroom
sloping three inches; one night, we heard a huge crash:
the window frame so distorted the glass shattered
in jagged shards, transparent puzzle pieces
on the fruitwood table. Later, after the holes
have been dug, the forsythia & sweet olive bent
out of the way, the lunches eaten, they jack the house up
& it shudders & pops, the cats head for somewhere
dark & safe, & before I figure out what’s going on
I wonder if the workers are playing soccer
on the roof or if there’s an earthquake. By dusk
they’re mixing mortar, repointing brick, & in the yard
a grackle, a bluejay, & two cardinals peck
at the damp grass. I’d love to draw some lesson
from this, that things we can’t see hold us up
& it’s possible for those things to be repaired.
But I don’t buy it; I think how you are
is how you are, that the level of joy or meaning
on the most ordinary Wednesday afternoon
is the level of joy or meaning you’re stuck with.
Years from now I’ll think of the lunches hanging
from the tree & how at the end of a long day
I heard music in the foreign recognizable sounds
of the workers calling to my neighbor’s dog.
"April 15th" first appeared in Dark Familiar, published by Sarabande Books, 2006. © Aleda Shirley.