29 May Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices
Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices
after Robert Hayden
What do I know of the mornings you slept in,
the pain in your stomach our cue to keep
our voices low, tiptoe? Awake, asleep,
invisible behind the bedroom door.
If I stayed home, I might see you emerge
mid-morning, holding a mug you’d top
up with coffee when you’d swallowed half.
Shuffling in robe and slippers, reading the paper,
nerving up to go next door, crunch numbers
in the office behind your mother’s house.
Puzzling, part-time work: a factory’s
payroll, tax returns in March, the month
we knew your stomach would flare.
Only the odd names of certain workers lit
your interest: Carmelita Schwartz, you’d say,
that’s funny! Words—you kept them close,
doled out Spanish to me, one word at a time.
When I was sick, you wrote an earache
limerick. There once was a doctor named Wimmer
whose mother-in-law was a swimmer…
And songs. When you died, you were working on
a musical about Odysseus, the man who loved
home but couldn’t seem to get there.
First published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Winter 2017.