to sign on the dotted line as the insurance man
talked to my parents for over an hour
around a coffee table about our future.
This roof wasn't designed to withstand meteors
he told my father, who back then had a brush haircut
that made his ears stick out, his moods
still full of passion, still willing to listen,
my mother with her beehive hairdo,
smiling back at him, all three of them
wanting so much to make the fine print
of the world work. They laughed
and smoked, and after they led the man
politely to the door, my parents returned
to the living room and danced in the afternoon light,
the phonograph playing Frank Sinatra,
the green Buick's payments up to date,
five-hundred dollars safely in the bank—
later that evening, his infallible common sense
ready to protect us from a burst pipe or dry rot,
my father waded up to his ankles in water,
a V of sweat on the back of his shirt.
Something loomed deeper than any basement
on our block, larger than he was,
a fear he could not admit was unsolvable
with a monkey wrench or a handshake and a little money down.
Source: Poetry (July 1998).
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This poem originally appeared in the July 1998 issue of Poetry magazine
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