Mrs. Hill

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:
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.

B. H. Fairchild, “Mrs. Hill” from Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest. Copyright © 2003 by B. H. Fairchild. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Source: Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2003)
More Poems by B. H. Fairchild