A local woman, getting on: her bent-
over back pistons like a bellows
as she pumps a broken clawhammer,
beating sense into tenpenny nails
to tack a length of sheeting plastic
over a window frame. She underpins
with scrap tin, cardboard, presswood.
Plucks a fastener from her lips,
pounds it home. Fills cracks
with duct tape, random strips of foam.
Stands back, surveys. She sets
her mouth a certain way and starts
toward the door—then stops
to holler at the little white dog
in its unfenced run, “All right,
Ezekiel. You can come on.”
Now, the cozy den: vinyl love-
seat, TV, leaflets from the church.
The oven’s half-open door
slants opposite the gentle slope
of the galled linoleum floor,
all four stovetop burners aflame.
Fumy air trembles over the table,
its fan of utility bills, a cup
of weak coffee and a thick catalog.
The open page: bright plastic
play-pretties the grandbabies
will tear up in two months. The bills
with their prim printed numbers,
the gaudy page. Bills: page. She pulls
the ratty collar of her cardigan
closer, picks up the telephone
and asks a man about the lay-away,
then sets the bills in a neat stack,
puts a rubber band around them,
pencils on the top “Friday week.”
From the bed she hears the ticking
of the five-and-dime clock
in the kitchen. Then the wind
buffeting her plastic sheeting
till the tape tears loose and it starts
to flap. The bedside table
a clot of crumpled Kleenex,
emptied flu-medicine wrappers,
unopened envelopes, she lies
as still as the recently deceased
with newspaper spread over the top
of the coverlet like the people
who have to sleep on the street.
She starts to pray. For her daughter
and grandbabies in California
and for people who sleep on the street.
She says the Amen, Jesus, Amen,
then scours the silence. Clock’s stopped.
She thinks Zeke may have eaten
a hole through the pantry door.
Something’s gone bad and reeks.
She’s worn a path through the papers
and wadded tissues from bed
to bathroom. She sees her breath
rising in faint humid clouds
through the cold air above her face,
her fever-dizzied head cradled
on a rank pillow. She knows Jesus
had something to do with this.
She knows it was him that sent
the devil as a propane man
to shut her furnace off. It’s a sign
He’s about to lift her up
out of this bed. It’s a sign
she’s finally leaving Phenix City.
She sighs, then laughs at herself,
then at something else, she’s not
sure what—in her fever. Then,
staring straight up, drifts off.
The truck from the Salvation
Army has come to haul away
the furniture. She can’t
use it. In California?
That sort of thing is beyond
kitsch. She burned the leaflets
and old bills and letters
in the rusted trash barrel
out back: they still do that here.
She had to admit, it was kind
of beautiful to watch: the fumes
and bits of feathery paper
wafting up, the dark, thin smoke.
But the stink of it: pure
Alabama. Good riddance,
she thinks, and goodbye. One
last time, goodbye. She settles
her children in the car
with the dog and tries anew
to teach them how to say
its name: ee-zee-ke-ul.