your wife calls the new chinchillas
crap factories, her eyebrows nudge me
after clever jokes the kids don’t catch.
she offers me a water glass
full of wine, baking
or sautéing a meal
in the kitchen of a house
you can hardly afford when i show up
for your son’s (who can’t pronounce
acidophilus yet, but tries)
first birthday party. your older step-son
is missing a few teeth. your oldest,
your step-daughter, denies delicate
and blushing as tomatoes,
hardly able to say out loud,
a boyfriend. your wife
smokes in the garage
after setting a timer.
the house almost smells
like twenty-some months ago, when
empty minus a couch, that showed up
two-months early, you layed lying on, studying
shape of dawn shadows in the living room—dying
a bit faster than natural, heart beating
quicker than happy, blood pressuring
too much between pumps.
until she, the kids,
the animals, moved in
nearly forgiving, dogs slobbering,
puke piles suprising, rodent pets
defecating, heads on banisters
cutting—you, showering off
chemicals sweated after clearing
a path to the woods. everyone
did their worst to make house home,
slapping color on walls, putting color
in your face with kisses
lettuce and potatoes
instead of hands and ultimatums.
But, around the time the doc said your nose
would heal itself—the pills actually cause seizures
when you quit taking them, Damn—the school saiD
kindergarten starts for your middle child
at 8:35 end of summer—she said treatment
will be a month—treatment said
you can leave when you want—she
told you exactly what you’d be leaving
if you returned early—she reminded
he’ll need rides to school,
so will the oldest—your Color Drained
like your Bank Account.
i was never around
for altercations i heard
in the background of phone calls.
i didn’t watch
through neighbor’s picture windows
the contortion of your faces, the dampened
rattle of motorcycle chain
while you hunkered under the half-open
garage door instead of riding, too late
to call late, so not to wake anyone.
i didn’t see
twenty some months ago when she was livid,
when she threw you out the front door
over three cement steps, she wasn’t kidding
when she called when she bawled:
pick his ass up i don’t fucking know what to fucking do with him
heard you speak about yourself
the way you did home after treatment,
or how happy you sounded from a hospital lobby
nine months after, first child
fat and healthy, things Had altered,
He would be the new cause
of All Nighters on the living room couch.
i was outside a tango jamming restaraunt
fighting my then girlfriend over horns and drum-sets,
when you called. you did well distracting the argument—
whatever it was, whatever any of them
are, or were.
i wondered walking home how they lead us
to quit shouting
to not pulling out our hair
but instead, our wallets
in backseats, liquor stores, or pharmacies.
how an argument never changes us like a baby
reaching to grip our thumb for the first time, or spending
ten minutes touching your whiskers, and nose, and ears
with fumbling fingers watching with undeveloped eyes
quietly giggling and gurgling.
pills, liquids, powders
don’t stick like bruises to your arms,
not like smoke sticks to your wife’s hair
locking the door as she comes from gardening,
or pulling a birthday cake from the freezer.
A House’s silence
has been replaced with Home’s tearful tugs
of your one-year-old-son on your wife’s robe.
you sold the motorcycle, no more Northeast bars
ignoring smoking bans sliding sandwich bags of murder
over counters under napkins. the step-kids
call you Dad standing behind you in the entryway
when they ask if i’m leaving.
we don’t call them step-kids now.
your youngest grabs your pant leg
when he wants you to hold him and sizes me up
with a YouLookLikeMyDadButDon’tSmellLikeHim
look. you flip all except a hallway night-light off.
you have a meeting tomorrow, daycare to pay for,
leftovers of an almost ruined love to repair
for a too good of a cook, too good looking wife, Damn.
in this car-seat-cul-de-sac
your kids hop off the bus every week day afternoon,
you greet them with your youngest sitting clapping
on your lap. before supper, you help your second oldest son
to his feet after one too many crashes not to cry,
and when he cries—feeling
too old to cry—you smile
hurting for him hand around his shoulder—feeling
yourself too old to smile—while your wife
one hand on her hip, one hand hanging free
clutching a towel biting her lip grimaces
watching from the top of the driveway.
and you call out to her, “We’re alright.”
All rights reserved to Mike Barthman
Originally published in Paper Darts Volume One