When I smell the dirt on the oiled leather I fear that I am leaving everyone to become A field of wind and sunlight. I climb a stone wall to look at the ocean With a bird call stuck in my mind. The frog, my spirit animal, cocks Its bulging eyeball at me and its throat Enlarges as if to laugh, to engulf All the air since neither of us wishes to live In a gloomy house of fish scales And neither of us can perform basic manual tasks Like re-greasing the axle, repotting the hydrangea Or knitting a new sweater maybe Because I dropped the knife on my toes When I was 8—I was trying to hack A pumpkin from its vine but the mouse Darting through the garden startled me And some spec or mote dove into The abyss of my insides where I am The night watchman at the perfume factory Where the machines never quit humming Where the stench is overwhelming Where I have to wear a mask or I’ll black out I’ll float down the river, get stuck in the reeds Or torn to shreds in the sudden eddies. Blood gushed from my big toe but the knife Didn’t make a clean cut. Something else was wounded So I put on my gold star badge. I, sheriff Of the cosmos, must cordon off the attic. The mold has made it unstable and besides No one can breathe, even with the oxygen pump That the doctor left dangling in the branches Of the oak that shades the eastern side of the yard. The cabbages look neon in the maturing sun— There’s time for one last cup of coffee before The raindrops dive straight at the old glove And bucket of balls. When the sky clouds over It’s like Dad’s staring at me again. I’m not even sleeping. It’s the middle of the day And he lives 200 miles away— He just buried his dog in a black mound near the pond He just opened a box of love letters He just ran his finger over the lumpy dough Remembering when we stopped by the big lake On our way to the museum—the sun had just come up And I felt like I was holding a hammer That would break the glossy water into little pieces That would spin around the lookout station— I was 10 or 11. I had just discovered hairspray— I was trying to make my head a hammer But this is not a memoir—this is not a personal account Of each burning nanosecond of wakefulness. I picked up the old mitt just to smell the leather.
Copyright © 2019 Nathan Hoks. This poem originally appeared in Poetry Northwest, Winter & Spring 2019. Used with permission of the author.