You don't come around,
over her basket of clean laundry
below the horizon of clothesline
and rose gold. She doesn't know
what tone to take anymore so
her fingers do the talking now,
sifting through her apron pocket
of wooden clothespin soldiers.
In truth she's afraid to breathe.
If she exhales, will he blow away
with that fickle wind the laundry
and she can't ever make sense of?
He drops his cigarette in the dust
(smoked it just to impress her
although he'd never say so)
and snuffs it out with with a toe
that could do with some practice
in clean kills.
You know I can't,
he says, sounding more stern
than he'd planned, not that
he'd planned for any of this,
any of this at all. He wears
the uniform, matter of habit.
No one can say he's not
playing his part.
She knows better than to ask.
He's been gone plenty long
enough for a girl to forget.
The railroad track that runs just
behind the house is anyone's
path to travel. She tries not
to remember him years ago,
skipping stones on the rails.
Helped him think,
he'd said then, his hands
cupping hers around just
the right stone, smoother
than it had any right to be.
Here. Hold it like this,
he'd said then.
The railroad ties, they're just
like waves if you think about it.
But she couldn't skip the stone
on the tracks. It's all about
the timing, he'd said.
He could be practical like that.
You've got to know when to let go.
She holds her tongue now, daring him
to skip a word or three off her ribs,
her spine. For her it takes everything
to say nothing at all.
He squints and shades his eyes
with a shaky hand. The sunlight
and her eyes have always been
too bright for him. She knows it
but there's no telling the sun.
You look nice,
he says finally.
I don't want you to think--
But that's all. Train whistle.
They both have to laugh. He
feels lighter, coil in his step
as he turns away. He thinks
he's said his piece.
When she opens her eyes
assaulted by the fierce and dirty
city sunlight, the scream of sirens
and purpose four stories below,
she finds her hand unclasped,
resting palm down on
her very own heart.