Junk: A Love Poem

by Terry Kennedy

For L.J.T.

You feel a kinship to discarded things—
dishwashers with a spring loose, treadless tires,
buckets of paint with slack, wrinkled skin.
The weeks after school lets out,
your truck is never lonely.
The sad, sagging sofa just needs the right . . .
“Isn’t Julie’s sunroom a buttery yellow?”
And so we tug and heft
the little couch into the back—
the sheet of chipboard you grabbed on Jackson
will repair the damage of an exuberant lover,
the miscue in the big game.
These things will make her whole again,
a warm dog curled in the crook of her arm,
a shirtless poet reading Dig Safe.
It’s not the waste that moves you, or,
as you’re often accused, a misguided
desire to make the worthless useful again.

Once you told me about a tenant who
joined you for grapefruit one morning.
It was early spring and you sat on the stoop
talking about girls, The Cubs, tomatoes—
and then he walked away—gone.
No job, no way to pay the rent,
so he left. Abandoned his paints, his easel.
Didn’t take his blind, arthritic cat.
Didn’t tell his teenage Mexican girlfriend.
But you let her stay. And she worked long
hot days in the garden, and later,
in the coolness of night, she canned tomatoes
and pickled peppers for your winter pantry.
Eventually the cat passed away.
Tears streaked both your faces
as you buried him beneath his favorite Holly.
And then, she too was gone.

But let’s back up a minute.
Yes, you did enjoy grapefruit on the steps. Yes,
it was spring. And being spring everything did
seem fresh and possible—The Cubs
might yet have won the World Series.
But here’s where things get muddied.
He was more than a tenant—
more like your son, truth be told.
And he didn’t walk away, disappear.
He went back home, drew
an intolerably hot bath heaped with billowy
mounds of lilac-scented bubbles.
He climbed in, sank down.
Only his face was showing,
but underneath the water,
hidden from everyone,
his life sprouted from his arms in rich
crimson blossoms as beautiful as a bouquet
of fresh-cut roses.

There was no Mexican girlfriend,
only that comforting and loyal sadness
that comes with abandonment.
And the desire
to stop it
from ever
happening again.

TERRY KENNEDY is the editor of storySouth. He is the Associate Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at UNC Greensboro and Founding Editor of Spring Garden Press. His work appears in variety of journals and magazines including Cave Wall, from the Fishouse, Waccamw, and The Southern Review.