She’s listening to the clock—the heartbeat
that mocks the blood that pumps inside this house.
She clicks her tongue in time with the sound that knocks
against walls, and mimics heel-to-toe boots on redwood
floors. There’re knickknacks to dust
and soapy dishes to scrub. She waters the plants
to keep her mind from creeping back to the goons planted
in graves thanks to the triggers she squeezed. She wouldn’t beat
the rap—not a chance. For the two droppers she dusted
she’d claim self-defense, but that silk tie she popped in a house
of God, she can’t chin her way out of that. Would
you’ve done different if a butter and egg man offered Fort Knox
to care for you and your mentally impaired brother? Knock
off my competition, and you won’t waitress again. Plant
six shells into him while he’s on his knees praying, and I’d
give you enough dough you won’t need to mess with deadbeats
who want to toss your brother into the nuthouse.
Don’t worry about the bird I want you to drop. To you he’s dust.
To set her mind on more pretty things she starts to sing Stardust.
The screen door in the kitchen knocks
against its frame, and she turns to smile at the man this house
belongs to. The man who spends his days among the plants
in his garden. In his hands is a strainer full of beets.
He kisses her check. He smells of earth and freshly cut wood.
It smells like you’ve been sawing wood,
she says as she brushes sawdust
off his shoulders. And then some, he says, rinsing the beets
in the sink. Other men would’ve ratted to the cops, and knocked
her out on her ass before she had time to plant
one murderous painted toenail inside their shack.
Instead, he swept the air with his hand and said, Get in the house.
He taught her brother how to select seasoned oak for the wood
stove, and told him all the names of the plants.
He doesn’t talk to him as if he’s a child or deaf. They like to dust
off down the road to watch the heifers in the field, and to knock
tin cans over with rocks. He listens when her brother says, Beets!
and says, Beets, again. She knows when to knock
on wood. All that she loves is planted
in this house. Everything else can turn to dust.
Joshua Michael Stewart has had poems published in Massachusetts Review, Euphony, Rattle, Cold Mountain Review, William and Mary Review, Pedestal Magazine, Evansville Review and Blueline. Pudding House Publications published his Chapbook Vintage Gray in 2007. Finishing Line Press published his chapbook Sink Your Teeth into the Light in 2012 He lives in Ware, Massachusetts. Visit him at www.joshuamichaelstewart.yolasite.com