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The Sunken House, The Rough Floor

-for John Ryan McGreevy

When the National Palace’s second floor crumbled,

when the telephone poles and apartment walls splintered—

before the thunderous drone of cracked concrete and collapse

gave way to the long sting of cries—my friend sipped

from a water glass, his head dizzy as if the house

and floor were shaking beneath him, as dust and fire

and rubble blanketed the slums and market.  Just a week prior,

he came to the island village to help work-thinned mothers

tramping through dwindling forests to cook meals

for their families, to help the island forests from men and women

leveling branches and trunks to ash and smoke.  Seventy

miles south and on the coast, Port-au-Prince sidewalks

fill with lifeless figures, naked and blank; families huddle

under makeshift tents of tarpaulin and bed sheets.  He tightens

the mask over his face, but the smell of bodies still attack his nose. 

The toppled buildings and fields are a nameless graveyard. 

What can he do about the house a man has saved his whole life

for falling into itself or his wedding that will have to wait more years—

homes emptied and ruined like the farmlands and jungles

over-worked and picked worthless?  Is this the look of every city?

Will the world see its sister?  In a country reduced to street-median

campgrounds and signs begging for water and medicine,

signs for aid and answers for missing children, my friend sleeps

among hundreds in a soccer field weary of another aftershock,

weary of the night fires and horror that can’t be put out.

Self-Portrait with a Mouse in my future Mother-In-Law’s Kitchen

The house is night draped.  The kitchen is soiled

with the dishwasher’s dull hum, the dripping faucet’s slow peck.

I spy the thin, milky wax of bacon grease pooling in a saucepan,

as I stir from the borrowed guest room, pass through the den

and dining room, padding the long way around the master suite

to take a leak.  I’ve grown accustomed

to the next morning compliments on my heavy snore,

my fiancé’s crammed and overflowing closet, our stalled love-life nights.

Crouching in the loaned quarter’s only hidden corner to change.

Knocks and drawer thuds, talking and dog barks waking me.

Tonight, in the night light’s dim glow, soft stepping

to keep quiet each shabby floorboard, I am looking forward to

cold tile, a vacant bathroom—all mine.  Nearing the door

across from the storage pantry, I catch a glimpse of it.

I startle as if walking in on someone dressing.

An egg of fur.  A clump of my beard trimmings.

Skittering blur prowling the counter sill, poised along the garbage bin rim.

Did I wake your tiny paws from scouring dirty bowls

for the dried slather of soup broth and Ramen noodles,

a morsel of grimy melon rind?  Forgive me, I don’t mean to.