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.
Copyright © 2019 by John Gallaher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“The poem happened pretty much as written. I get up early and read the news at a desk which abuts a window that looks out over our neighbors’ property, and on this day it was ‘squirrelnado’ in the news and our neighbors cleaning up after a thunderstorm. In some ways I know our neighbors very well, as they come and go, but I also don’t remember their names. These things faced off against each other as I was sitting there, and the rest of the poem is an attempt at doing something with this feeling of things slipping away.”
John Gallaher is the author of Brand New Spacesuit, forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2020, Map of the Folded World (University of Akron Press, 2009) and The Little Book of Guesses (Four Way Books, 2007), which won the Levis Poetry Prize.
Date Published: 2019-03-14
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/my-life-brutalist-architecture-1