Michael Diebert: Three Poems

In Your Off-White Dream

“I let you close once and what happens?

The floor’s all cut up in this one corner

and something in the ceiling is redolent of Death!

You forgot to put out more cans of air!

The curlicue-and-shrink-wrap shipment

continues to be unopened! And funny—

we sold no folderol last night

but now somehow we’re out?

What is this, your personal treehouse?

When I get back with my large triple

chocolate chunk caramel skim latte,

I’d better see some evidence

I’m not dreaming!” But he is. He’s been

assistant manager too long

or humble not long enough

or the trees have shriveled in the record heat

or a million other possible tropes.

You, you’re no trope. You open the doors.

In marches a skeleton holding a handbag,

demanding a refund. You handle it.

The skeleton blows you a kiss

and comes close to skipping.

In a minute which feels like an hour

you take back a beaten guitar,

scuffed sneakers, driftwood, Christmas trees,

someone’s great-grandmother’s butter knives.

Dust rag in one hand, Sharpie in the other,

you mark everything down

to two-seventy-nine. A phone keeps ringing

that idiotic song about redemption,

you know the one, you’ve heard it,

bubbly undercurrent of a bazillion TV ads.

You poke your head outside

expecting the curb. You get the inside

of another store: off-white walls,

empty shelves practically begging

to be populated. One foot follows

the other across the threshold.

Windows without flyers—endcaps

without mice, batteries, or candy bars—

register swaddled in plastic—

counter pristine as the dash of a Cadillac.

A store with nothing to sell—

your breath the only air.

Two orderlies muscle in, strap you into

a gurney, push you through a portal

to a clearing, an urgent meeting

of guidance counselors. Campfire flames

threaten to lick the branches.

In the dancing shadows they sign rapidly

and with much agitation. In their shoulders

hunches an indeterminate fear,

which is what you hear

when you wake to the sports talk station rant

and slam the snooze button.

Your forehead glistens.

Once you were pretty good at stopping

your dreams on a dime.


Two Sicknesses


My brother in a hospital bed

with the chicken pox,

three years old, barely

old enough to know real illness

but enough to know

we have deviated from the plan

and don’t have much call

to be in Crawfordsville, Indiana

tonight or any night,

yet at the moment a sort of peace

creeps: soft yellow light

from a goose-necked lamp,

a sheaf of papers in its beam,

somewhere a clock

announcing 9:30, the night inside

slowly drawing the sheets over itself,

drifting off. The cord

running from me to this memory

is crimped, not up to code.

Where are my parents? I hear

strained whispers, questions asked

of whom I presume is the man

in charge, words like when

and penicillin. At this remove

I can’t tell anymore

if tomorrow calls for cold or rain

or more of the same,

can’t help anyone here

get to where they’re going

even though some part of me

knows we’re driving to Fresno.

Road trip without a moral,

tableau in amber—

save my brother

on his back, hooked up to fluids,

probably still awake and dying

to scratch holy hell out of his body,

he who has speech

and no say in the matter.


State park campsite.

Rain, noninsistent, omnipresent,

tapping since yesterday the wings

of our pop-up camper,

a haze to complement

the greater haze surrounding us,

preventing my supine

flu-ridden self from seeing

the other family we’re camping with:

the dad who works with my dad,

the mysterious mom,

the snooty daughter

I sort of know from school.

The afternoon is a lukewarm bath.

All weekend this indecisive light,

my stomach suspended

between full and ravenous,

little TV illuminating

the hollows of Dad’s cheeks

with tires, power tools, light beer,

knives so sharp they could cut

silence. My head is hot. Mom slides

the cold thermometer under my tongue.

Ninety-nine and holding.

It’s sick how no one is talking.

Pop tab hiss, cola cracking ice.

I sit up and look through

the half-unzipped window

at the canopy. A dove coos,

seems to be feeling me out.

I know I will probably get better,

go on to falter

and recover a million times over

from more life-threatening things.

Household chores, girls, mean old world.

In the thin wet mesh

between me and the elements,

I trace my name:

first and last, all caps.


Harbor Island

Farther down the beach,

kids are chasing each other, screaming with delight.

A kite puffed up by the wind. Twilight,

high tide, hyperactive sea.

We ease Mom into the unfolded folding chair,

help her button her sweater. She grins

through the pain. No walker,

no cane, no wheelchair, not yet.

She’s from a line who says it does no good to complain,

and tonight, I must agree.

I’m tired, resolve-free.

In the surf, a heron is sneaking up on dinner.

My wife and I wade in ankle-deep.

I wish I had handy a shovel

to dig a bed and dream

the even-keeled dreams of the dead.

There is much to be said about this beach

that can never be said,

or if so, by someone with a mind like sand,

someone here year-round.

Farther down, the kids are fighting

to keep a fire going. They fan, they blow.

Mom looks on from a body which has betrayed her

and in a low, flat voice—

what she really wants, we’ll never know—

says she could sure go for some lobster,

claws and all, the real stuff, the kind you have to want

to work for.