If you drive the country roads around here, you will find old barns holding fast against the gravity of gentrification, their wood worn gray as twilight, boards gone like the teeth in a friend’s mouth, those absences that become all you can see when he smiles. Time’s erosion leaves little to smile about as nails loosen their grip in wood’s fabric. Those structures were built with the help of neighbors or men hired for a few days’ labor. Once each of those nails gleamed bright as a new moon. There are a thousand parallels for the empty bed, the house devoured by silence. It takes a while and a then a while longer to live as though you are your single tenant, to find the narrative that is more than a drone of loss. For weeks after the slow crumbling of my first marriage, I slept on the couch, the television she left behind dim accompaniment to addled sleep. One night, a story returned, shared by a friend during his divorce. A kinsman, too distant to own a name, found himself expelled from his house after decades of blasphemy and hard drinking. Across the road, he built a madman’s lean-to out of limbs and scrap wood, any trash that provided the illusion of shelter. From there he could rise from solitary hibernation and harangue the woman who had borne and raised his children, then closed the door when prayer provided no further comfort. Drunk on home-brewed wine or whiskey, he yelled his soul empty at the house he nailed the roof on, and painted, that sat now, complete in its silence. Some days he stood in the road to tell any who passed of her perfidy. That story, like his voice, is lost in wind and mud, in the collapse of his habitat. Now it dwells only in the wordless humming that sleeps in us, a near silence roused only by trespass, like the machine-whine of wasps I nearly walked into once as I explored a barn beginning its fall. I backed out, stepping into the solitude of my body. And one night, inside the same body, I found myself leaning against the wall at a party, a party so like others I had no reason to speak. Better to pull myself away from the wall, find my coat, walk to the house where the quiet paused at my entrance, then stirred like the sleep-drugged companion who half-smiles and makes room so you can at last lie down.
Al Maginnes is the author of eight full-length collections and four chapbooks of poetry, most recently Sleeping Through the Graveyard Shift (Redhawk Publications, 2020). He has recent or forthcoming work in Lake Effect, The MacGuffin, Cumberland River Review, Tar River Poetry, and many others. He currently teaches at Louisburg College.