I live in this derelict house:
stone-built, cracked roof tiles made of village clay
hallmarked from the Red Hills,
mildew conquering the window ledge,
rain water dripping through the kitchen window,
rusty liquid collecting in a tarnished brass pail.
She is frail, her voice trembling,
the old man a skeleton, a century old
like a crumbling rock weathered in rain.
Hot sun, night frost, the prevailing wind exposing
to the sea the erosion of monsoon waves.
He walks with the help of a stick,
she with aluminum crutches,
hand in hand along the avenues,
purple cordylines, poinsettias and bright bougainvillea.
They sit in the parlour
gazing at the evening sky
filled with the scent of gardenias,
the sun’s flickering light a soft grey shade.
Two foot high anthills by the front door steps,
silvery sloughed skins on the dusty doormat.
I heard the hissing sound of a snake, venomous.
I walked up the curved wooden stairs,
windows closed in my daylight,
cobwebs woven into a patter of wheels,
rotten mangoes, bananas and wild berries in a corner,
covered in black, hairy fungus, the bittersweet smell of liquorice
mixed with the excrement of night bats.
A mahogany linen chest on the narrow landing opened,
a discoloured copper key sits in the lock, untouched,
half empty, moth-eaten green silk rags, decades old,
a wall clock with oily patches in Roman numerals;
It is five past one.
Under the satin bed a photograph lies upside down.
She is smiling, holding a bouquet of roses,
white veil draped over her neck and shoulders,
flowing above her golden hair.
His smile majestic.
Driving one night through North Carolina,
On a back road that passed near our mother’s
Family’s farm, the smell of sharp mud in the air,
We could barely see the road before us, even
With the brights on & the way light swayed out.
Before it happened, I remember we laughed
About something I’m sure neither one of us could
Recall now, even if someone were to place a gun to
Our head, pushing us, trying to scare the hell out of us,
I’ll bet we wouldn’t remember what made us stop
Watching the road, even though it was difficult to
See anything in front of us, anything at all, so hard
To make out even the bright yellow lines glaring
Now, this is when the doe lifted into view, softly
Placing itself before us as we sped into the night,
The car going 75 mph, had to be at least 70 veering,
& the deer must have thought we were nothing
More than a fence it had to cross, because that is
How it came upon us, in midair, & God, I can’t
Remember what it was that must have made us
Laugh out loud beforehand, that caused us to become
Distracted in an instant, but one thing I do remember
Is the animal’s nose, soft & black, reflecting what
I want to think was pure starlight, & nothing else.
Because we sometimes take each other’s stories
For our own, I want to believe I am part of this one,
One where a stray crawled under the crawlspace
Of a new building. Tenants were complaining
That all they could hear was a dog whimpering,
The pathetic lilt building like waves from the
Ground up until their rooms were filled with it,
Nothing but pain, someone said it sounded like,
Their small apartments only full of this one sound.
What is amazing is that it went on all day until,
In the story, they call the fire department,
Because someone thought it was the right thing
To do, & in comes this rookie, dressed in full
Gear while the others, veterans, some who have
Spent their lives diving into nothing but black
Smoke, they pass the time telling each other jokes.
This is what makes the human spirit amazing—
& where I am in this story? I’m laughing,
There on the truck, when the rookie brings back
The dog, heavy, sprawled like a sack of huge potatoes,
& it doesn’t take much to know that it’s carrying
A litter, its nipples bright pink like buds on a dog-
wood, & when he rests her on the ground, he
Looks up at us, this kid, this look about him that
Says he was prepared for anything, & I love him.