I am so young that I am still in love
with Battle Creek, Michigan: decoder rings,
submarines powered by baking soda,
whistles that only dogs can hear. Actually,
not even them. Nobody can hear them.
Mrs. Hill from next door is hammering
on our front door shouting, and my father
in his black and gold gangster robe lets her in
trembling and bunched up like a rabbit in snow
pleading, oh I’m so sorry, so sorry,
so sorry, and clutching the neck of her gown
as if she wants to choke herself. He said
he was going to shoot me. He has a shotgun
and he said he was going to shoot me.
I have never heard of such a thing. A man
wanting to shoot his wife. His wife.
I am standing in the center of a room
barefoot on the cold linoleum, and a woman
is crying and being held and soothed
by my mother. Outside, through the open door
my father is holding a shotgun,
and his shadow envelops Mr. Hill,
who bows his head and sobs into his hands.
A line of shadows seems to he moving
across our white fence: hunched-over soldiers
on a death march, or kindly old ladies
in flower hats lugging grocery bags.
At Roman’s Salvage tire tubes
are hanging from trees, where we threw them.
In the corner window of Beacon Hardware there’s a sign:
WHO HAS 3 OR 4 ROOMS FOR ME. SPEAK NOW.
For some reason Mrs. Hill is wearing mittens.
Closed in a fist, they look like giant raisins.
In the Encyclopaedia Britannica Junior
the great Pharoahs are lying in their tombs,
the library of Alexandria is burning.
Somewhere in Cleveland or Kansas City
the Purple Heart my father refused in WWII
is sitting in a Muriel cigar box,
and every V-Day someone named Schwartz
or Jackson gets drunk and takes it out.
In the kitchen now Mrs. Hill is playing
gin rummy with my mother and laughing
in those long shrieks that women have
that make you think they are dying.
I walk into the front yard where moonlight
drips from the fenders of our Pontiac Chieftain.
I take out my dog whistle. Nothing moves.
No one can hear it. Dogs are asleep all over town.