In the Little Book of Guesses

John Gallaher
I’ll make you up from out 
of the living rooms we face, 
equal parts singing gate 

and people we knew once,  
in biographical order.  Equal lengths 

investiture, and the sun came out 
and it was bright in my eyes.  

The room is dark behind 
the flaring particles.  The day 
is twenty years ago 

and Tuesday.  I did not mean 
to leave us there with nothing, 

as I was saying car rides  
for wonderful.  It hardly matters.  Unequal parts 
wanting to mean something 

and frosted glass.  Whose cigarette 
in the plaid ashtray?  

Whose clothes on the coffee table 
as the dog begins to bark?  

The black dog out in whatever yard, 
barking off and on 

the rest of our lives.

More by John Gallaher

Advice to Passengers

There is a man, there is a woman,
and there is a child. 

Their faces too plain,
their mouths too wide.

It's a grim business.  You can feel it piling up
however quiet you refuse to be.

Watch them.

They woke up one morning
and their hands were all rubber.

"How can you hold me?"
they asked.
"How can I feel you?"

They woke up 
and their voices were coming through
on the radio,
saying, "I should've warned you."

It would seem easy enough 
to warn someone.

They are at the window
in the sunlight.

Step back a bit.

Don't forget to thank them
for their time.

In a Landscape: IV


Now the scene changes, we say, and the next few years 
are quiet.  It’s another curse, the inverse of the “interesting times”
the Chinese were said to go on so about.  Nevertheless, there it is, 
as the emptiness needs a something in order to be defined as empty, 
which means we spend the next few years talking about other years, 
as if that’s what’s important.  Maybe that is what’s important.  It was terrible, 
the hospital stay.  The children.  Not the children in the abstract way, 
but those times worried that this would go wrong, or that, and then things 
do go wrong and it almost feels like we’d wished for it to happen, 
so not only do we have to go through this terrible time, but we also 
have to keep reminding ourselves that we didn’t wish for it.  It’s Problem 
One.  And there’s our two-year-old son strapped to a board with an IV, crying.  

And doesn’t it feel like a formal device then?  As if expecting it 
were the same—or is the same—as willing it, but then almost willing it anyway, 
saying something like, “Please God, or whomever, get it over with already . . .” 
if the world isn’t going to be a museum only, as museums keep calling out 
that there’s so much more to find in the past, like ourselves, for instance.  
The simplification of our forms.  The question of why it might be important 
to save our dinnerware, or Yo-yos.  We have these accidents 
in common: last night I was pulling a filing cabinet upstairs on a hand truck, 
and at the 90 degree turn it fell on top of me and I had to hold it like that, 
one wheel on the stair, one in mid-air.  So I had some time on my hands, 
waiting for Robin to get home.  They say that if you relax, lying there 
is 80% as restful as sleep.  And knowing how to relax is key, they say.  

Here’s a guess: we will sit on a wooden lawn-chair in the sun, and we 
will like it.  We will run the numbers and think it sounds like a good 
proposition.  We will consult a map, even ask directions.  The sun’s 
out right now, in fact, and it’s all a matter of doing the next big thing.  
Driving home, say.  And then it’s a manner of having done something.  
Driving past the car wash.  Yes, forcing a matter of doing the next 
thing, which is filling out the accident report, while the old man 
who hit my pickup is crying in the street.  And then I’m walking around, 
picking up the fender and light pieces and putting them in the bed.

My Life in Brutalist Architecture #1

     My neighbor to the left had a stroke a couple years ago. It didn’t look 
     like he was going to make it, and then he made it. I’m watching him 
     now from my window as he makes his slow way across his yard 
     with some tree branches that fell in last night’s storm. Three steps.  
     Wait. Three steps. It’s a hard slog. Watching, I want to pitch in.  
     And we do, at such times, wanting to help. But on the other hand, 
     it’s good to be as physical as possible in recovery. Maybe this is part 
     of his rehab. Maybe this is doctor’s orders: DO YARDWORK.  
     And here comes his wife across the yard anyway, to give a hand 
     with a large branch. She’s able to quickly overtake him, and she folds 
     into the process smoothly, no words between them that I can make out.  
     It’s another part of what makes us human, weighing the theory of mind, 
     watching each other struggle or perform, anticipating each other’s 
     thoughts, as the abject hovers uncannily in the background, threatening 
     to break through the fragile borders of the self. “What’s it like to be 
     a bat?” we ask. The bats don’t respond. How usually, our lives 
     unfold at the periphery of catastrophes happening to others. I’m 
     reading, while my neighbor struggles, that the squirrel population 
     in New England is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. A recent 
     abundance of acorns is the reason for this surge in squirrel populations, 
     most particularly in New Hampshire. They’re everywhere, being 
     squirrely, squirreling acorns away. We call it “Squirrelnado” because 
     it’s all around us, circling, and dangerous, and kind of funny. Language 
     springs from the land, and through our imagination we become 
     human. They’re back in the house now. We name the things we see, 
     or they name themselves into our experience, whichever, and then 
     we use those names for things we don’t understand, what we can’t 
     express. Wind becomes spirit becomes ghost. Mountain becomes 
     god. The land springs up before us. It shakes us and pushes us over.