The old man’s flexing his muscles.
Or stomping up and down the platform
as he waits for his train.
Or could be he’s kicking the air around.
Or just thumping into something solid
at the end of his downward spiral.
That’s why I hear those noises from out there somewhere.
No signs of a storm.
It has to be him.
He’s rifling through a stack of bills.
Moaning because he can’t sleep.
Yelling into a hand-held mike.
Calling everybody by the name that he alone has for them.
Or just rattling his bones.
Or working up an epitaph.
Whatever he’s doing is so loud
I have to put my hands over my ears.
Too bad my thoughts are unwilling to block him out.
He’s cutting into rock with a chainsaw.
Practicing his parting gestures.
Regaling all with the low points of his marriage.
Smashing coffee cups against a wall.
Tearing roadmaps to shreds.
Setting fire to that tweed skin leisure suit.
Busting down the door between light and dark.
Or mainlining his regret.
Or untangling his chains.
The noise is causing tremors all throughout my body.
I fear I will break apart.
But there’s nothing I can do to make him stop.
He’s swatting fireflies.
Strafing the moon with buckshot.
Taking a straight razor to his throat.
Cajoling, excusing, bitching and complaining.
Or acting out something from a Brando film.
Or reaching back and popping the eyes out
of someone in his past.
He’s not here.
He’s not far away.
He’s close enough to hear
but not to salve the wounds
from all this blistered hearing.
He’s taken to the mountains.
Like a son,
they bleed, they crumble.
They have not taken to him.
I’m in the attic.
There’s dead flies trapped
in the screens of the one window.
No one ever comes up here but me.
So I can just leave them there.
To discourage other flies.
It’s eighty degrees outside
but a hundred at least
within these sloping walls.
Heat rises for sure
but it reaches a point
where it’s weary of itself
and can go no further.
That’s an attic.
There’s a trunk of stuff
not even our memory needs.
It hasn’t been opened in years.
The attic is the perfect storage place
for the unwanted and unnecessary.
Even for the kind of air
that doesn’t get breathed much.
It does boast a skylight,
a plate of dusty glass
within a rusty iron frame.
It could be blue up there.
It’s hard to tell.
This attic has never been
a starting off point for the sky.
It’s its own self-contained universe.
The population is more dead flies than people.
So why do I climb the rickety rungs
to get up here?
I start off thinking I can do something
with all this space.
But then I scratch my head
(that other space that cries out
for something to fill it)
but nothing comes to mind.
It will always be as useless
as my second cousin Clarence.
He was so lazy,
he didn’t even bother to swat the flies
that buzzed around his face.
Of course, he might have known
better than the rest of us…
that the attic screens would eventually
take care of them.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Harpur Palate and Columbia Review with work upcoming in the Roanoke Review, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.