THE EIGHTIES

When Sunday mornings meant the lawnmower
tipped over on its side beside a pan
of spent oil, and eleven-hundred tugs of the cord,
my father, I am sure, thinking of the heart attacks
that snapped his Kiwanis friends in half,
their weeding and weed-whacking deaths,
bent swearing, sweating, swatting gnats. Those days
when banks were bought like lunch, and men tipped
over mowing lawns or slicing open mortgages.
But then, one year, mom claimed the yard
with pinwheels, electric shears, and painted
wooden wheel barrows, while dad fell asleep
somewhere, dreaming market figures, crunching numbers,
scratching his matchbox stubble with spotted hands.
He voted Reagan, mom Mondale, they walked
arm in arm to endless rummage sales; they lived
together in different rooms. He bought an Olds
and sold his shares of Schwab, and dozed
through the information boom. She didn't
miss the risk, she said, even when she wasn't asked.





THAW

A frost starved mudscape, mid-March.
The banks of the Merrimack
peel back to weeds
and beer cans and rusted
sump-buckets--the shattered hocks
and thighbones of poached

doe are picked apart now
for raven's nests
in the spruce trees
and firs. The cattails scrape
each other's stalks.  Once
on a bus to Rye

or Somerset, I croaked
so loudly in my dreams
a denim arm wrapped around my neck
and said shhh.

I felt like falling back asleep
in that rabid crook
that smelled like rosemary, was tight
and very warm.

The thaws have dumped new stones
in the fields; granite lumps
the shape of snapped
ankles.  The stumps

of briars quake in the mudflats,
the shrub-oaks writhe
and flush, and there
is no wind.





DOGS

There are no more dead leaves
on Easton Street, just
the prison bus smashing
patches of sleet onto the salted
walkways, while the gates
at the rail cross fall
and the warning bell
freezes the revving
pickup trucks before
the tracks. Now
the welders from Victory
Metal lash their fires
through sheets of steel,
cracking the doors
to sweat and smoke
in drizzling snow. And a propeller
begins to spin on the junked
Cessna in Caesar's Scrap
Yard, turning nearly twice
before freezing still. A few years back
I climbed the fence there
at a gap in the razor
wire, to pry a hubcap
from a totaled Oldsmobile--
and I watched the Dobermans
stalk soundlessly out of the dark
lanes of wrecks, not barking
or snapping, each slobbering
down its neck. I can see them
now, nuzzling the snow,
and under it sniffing the stench
of years and gear shafts, cracked
glass and thieves. They roam
the heaps, picking their feet
up to kick free the cold.
Or all three fall asleep
in a shattered limousine, the windows
smashed apart on the seats,
and wake up slowly at a whiff
of someone's fear. Chewing
their haunches, shaking black
glass from their fur.





Scranton Prayer

On the ash-sifts and pig-iron
heaps, by the shale piles
and sheet-ice, by the frozen furnace
door; near the sheared ore

in humps, the buried girders,
the blown out balks
of timber; by the flanks
of the coke stove, by the railroad ties

steeled down with snow. I wait
out the wind in the shack
at the cross-tracks, frying the wick
of a dead lantern; with snow dampened
matches, with the chink

chink of a lighter folding
to stone. I wait here, blear god
of the shopping cart, half drowned
in low river, where you turn
your one cracked wheel in the air.

     Gregory Lawless 2008