Brokeheart: Just like that

When the bass drops on Bill Withers’ 
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.  
and I confess I’m looking 
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn 
is peeking into my third-floor window 
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed 
for three weeks before I slide 
from sink to stove in one long groove 
left foot first then back to the window side
with my chin up and both fists clenched 
like two small sacks of stolen nickels
and I can almost hear the silver 
hit the floor by the dozens
when I let loose and sway a little back 
and just like that I’m a lizard grown 
two new good legs on a breeze
-bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man 
with a three-day wish and two days to live.
And just like that everyone knows 
my heart’s broke and no one is home. 
Just like that, I’m water. 
Just like that, I’m the boat. 
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world 
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just 
what comes between the dancing. And bam!, 
my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s 
children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true 
I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days 
and no one ever said I could sing but 
tell me my body ain’t good enough 
for this. I’ll count the aches another time, 
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, 
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, 
I’m missing the six biggest screws 
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind-
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door. 

More by Patrick Rosal

Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl 
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees, 
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground. 
 

If All My Relationships Fail and I Have No Children Do I Even Know What Love Is

This fireman comes every afternoon
to the café on the corner
dressed for his shift in clean dark blues
This time       it’s the second Wednesday of January
and he’s meeting his daughter again
who must be five or six
and who is always waiting for her father like this
in her charcoal gray plaid skirt
with green and red stripes
She probably comes here straight from school
her glasses a couple nickels thick

By now I know     that she can sit       (except
for her one leg swinging from the chair) 
absolutely still      while her father pulls       
fighters’ wraps from his work bag
and begins half way down the girl’s forearm
winding the fabric in overlapping spirals
slowly toward her fist           then     he props            
her wrist      like a pro    on his own hand
unraveling the black cloth   weaving it          
between her thumb and forefinger
around the palm            taut but
not so much that it cuts off the blood          then
up the hand and between the other fingers
to protect the knuckles         the tough           
humpback guppies just under the skin           

He does this once with her left       then again
to her right      To be sure her pops knows he has done
a good job       she nods        Good job       Good      
Maybe you’re right              I don’t know what love is
A father kisses the top of his daughter’s head
and knocks her glasses cockeyed
He sits back and downs the last of the backwash
in his coffee cup         They got 10 minutes to kill
before they walk across the street         down the block
and out of sight         She wants to test
her dad’s handiwork            by throwing 
a couple jab-cross combos from her seat
There is nothing in the daughter’s face         
that says     she is afraid         
There is nothing in the father’s face              
to say he is not                     He checks his watch                 
then holds up his palms    as if to show his daughter            
that nothing is burning                     In Philadelphia
there are fires      I’ve seen those  in my lifetime too