Under the stupefying sun
my family's belongings lie on the lawn
or heaped on borrowed card tables
in the gloom of the garage. Platters,
frying pans, our dead dog's
dish, box upon box of sheet music,
a wad of my father's pure linen
hand-rolled handkerchiefs, and his books
on the subsistence farm, a dream
for which his constitution ill suited him.
My niece dips seashells
in a glass of Coke. Sand streaks giddily
between the bubbles to the bottom. Brown runnels
seem to scar her arm. "Do something silly!"
she begs her aunt. Listless,
I put a lampshade on my head.
Not good enough.
My brother takes pity on her
and they go walking together along the river
in places that seemed numinous
when we were five and held hands
with our young parents.
She comes back
triumphant, with a plastic pellet box the size
of a bar of soap, which her father has clipped
to the pouch of her denim overalls. In it,
a snail with a slate-blue shell, and a few
blades of grass to make it feel like home….
Hours pass. We close the metal strongbox
and sit down, stunned by divestiture.
What would he say? My niece
produces drawings and hands them over shyly:
a house with flowers, family
standing shoulder to shoulder
near the door under an affable sun,
and one she calls "Ghost with Long Legs."