John Hartness – “Aftermath”- A Poem


The parlor sits full and empty,
the corner barren where the biggest spruce
in the forest always leaned wedged in
battling height against the ceiling,
star cocked at a jaunty angle.
We’re crowded and barren,
sitting numb on the antique velveteen sofas
looking around blindly at unfamiliar familial faces,
saying nothing while the same question dies on all our lips.

The silence leaves my eardrums bloody
and I flee out a door I’ve never knocked on,
down chipped concrete steps
that I used to catapult from as a superhero-child
and wander the yard with memories
clouded around my head
like fog on a winter morning—
cleaning fish on a splintered wooden bench,
playing bass drum on a rusted iron kettle with two legs left,
splinters and firewood and fireworks
all the happy man-smells of my boyhood.

I walk alone through the crowd
and murmur appropriate noises
at appropriate times;
nod thankyous to neighbors,
hug old women who remember
when I was that high,
hug an uncomprehending grandchild
and run the gauntlet of tasteless casseroles
scattered amidst the multi-colored Pyrex mosaic
that litters groaning countertops.

We dress in our finest suits of grief—
a velvet jacket of hugs and tears,
a belt of leathern spiky anger,
vest of vague half-sewn regrets
and lavender pocket square of nostalgia
topped off with a too-tight necktie of sobs
and half-remembered stories
while we try to make sense
of the new truth you left us with.