by John McCarthy
You taught me how hands could be laid, how they could touch
a head and heal, but all of those hands eventually fell limp
like a field bent by threshing or a lit match dropped in water. Once,
we used to dance in The Corner Tavern’s neon light
where the pickup exhaust wafted inside like harvest dust.
Life in the Midwest is like one long goodbye because it is the same
every day, and I didn’t realize you had left until there was nothing
but hard work and long days ending with the wind’s silent dirge
that sounds like trying not to die but always dies in smaller ways—
screen doors that slam closed but don’t shut all the way
because the house has settled and the roof is warping from the sky
boiling over with thunder and rain. I wake up now to the flashing
falling from the gutters and the water dripping through the holes
in the ceiling. All I do is recall your voice like a prayer thrashing
my skull that mines the night begging our fathers our fathers
our fathers in prayer, but they are off begging other women
in other towns. This town is not the memory I want, but I know
how sadness works. It’s like a kettle-bottom collapsing onto
the details of every thought. I shouldn’t have, but I stayed in town
to try and keep what I love alive, but no that never works. We were
a long time ago and a long time ago is too hard to get back.
The last time we talked you said, We will end up like our mothers—
waiting for nothing. Then you didn’t come back. No. Not ever.
John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent Like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the Jake Adam York Prize; and Ghost Country (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Hayden’s Ferry Re- view, Passages North, Sycamore Review, and Zone 3. He lives in Illinois.