for Dan, my brother
I was walking toward the kitchen window
when I heard it—Sunny, Summer Breeze,
Greensleeves—something from the early
70s our mother was always playing
on the piano then. I was walking toward an open
window, then I was drifting
through, was back in our old sandbox
in Portage, Wisconsin, beside the fence our neighbor, Mr.
Fields, painted white each year. I was building
a house in sand.
It might have been our house. We might have lived there,
half in sun, half in the shadow of
our real house, our mother inside painting
everything white on the piano. Painting the sun white,
painting the grass white. Painting the slow
breeze moving through the elms
of a song white. Painting the house inside of which
I remember, now, a coat of sunlight
on the wall, the kitchen wallpaper’s copper kettles and spoons
fading into it
across the room. Sunlight like a reverie of white
across the empty table and chairs. Everything
fading into it. Even the song our mother was playing. Even
her face half there.
You know how the mood coloring
everything, whatever mood you happen to be in, goes white
the instant you hear glass shatter on the road?
That white. That why-can’t-I-get-anything-right sound
of a dead chord. Our mother’s hands
stumbling. Trying the chord again.
white I woke to once
out of a dream. I dreamt
I was a teenager again, my bedroom
in the basement, below yours. I was
alone. Something dark: a shadow—no,
water pooling on the ceiling, oozing
from it, running down the wall. Then, I
saw blood punctuating Mom’s cry:
Oh Daniel. No!
The dream was wrong. She was
the suicide. But what if it were you? What
if it were me? Then wouldn’t our
mom’s suicide be her cry?
You know how some days
you’ll feel you’ve heard a cry your whole
life, but you can’t say who is gone?
Something was always missing.
We brought the sandbox with us
when we moved. It cracked and rotted.
The piano went unplayed and
out of tune. Mr. Fields is probably
dead now too. If the fence needs
a new coat of paint, I don’t know. I was
in this kitchen. I was building a
house in sand. When I looked up
from the house we might have lived in—a mound
I’d dug and dug into until its emptiness
went deeper than sand—when I turned to
the house where we lived, I was listening for the piano
to begin again.
Some days it did.