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.