The wood of the old farmhouse still crumbles,
paint powdery and chipped.
I pick at a flake with my fingernail
float from room to room through the past
tumbling along the scent of dust and bone.
My sisters waken in the bedroom to the cry of an osprey.
Insulted by the dawn, she shrieks loudly,
dives into her hunt, circling, circling
over woods that still hold Indian pipe and lady slippers—
as thrilling to find now as then.
My mother is lipsticked, frantic and angry.
It’s just before church—she bemoans my dirty nails,
dirty face, scabs on my knees, as if I should atone
for all the dirt a child could possibly wear,
intoning, Sweet Jesus why can’t this child bear to stay clean.
My father is in the library. I smell printers’ ink and cigarettes.
He’s hiding until church is over, praying to be spared
its infinite blessings. Praying for salvation from unbearable high notes
offered in the name of Glory to God in the Highest
by the lady in the choir with big teeth.
The porch air is thick with the remains of night fog—
phantoms idly converse in cold dampness.
That dampness never dries, salt air
clings to my skin. The old dog looks up,
thumps his tail in a vague sigh of recognition.
I turn away from my Beloved Ghosts,
gather smooth flat rocks in my pockets.
I skip them—two, three, four times across the inlet.
If I frighten the night heron standing alone in the lagoon
I will ask her by what right she thought she deserved peace.