In the boarding house’s side yard, a woman dumps her cat’s litter box
. The shimmering sound
of sand and gravel falling she follows with several thumps against the
. bottom, as if she’s trying
to get the last, sticky bit of waste to fall. She pauses, says hello to the man
. cutting through the yard
on his way to the thick trees across the street at the park’s edge. They
. know each other,
their greeting says. Rather, hers says it, because, unlike me, she doesn’t
. seem to notice
he’s wearing a knit hat in late July and the metal bottom of a shopping cart
. as a hiker’s backpack rack.
His black shirt is open, his muscles are firm, but his black skin looks loose
. with age, too large.
At his sternum hangs a weight—the kind of 5 or 10 pound plate you’d fasten
. to a bar and bench press—
held in place by a strap around his neck; his neck, stiff and certain, follows
. the straightness of his spine
as he plunges into the park’s thick treeline, though half a block in either
. direction, there are open paths.
She pointed her rainbow glove to show her brother
which was the mom, the dad, the baby one
in the ostrich family they watched bobbing
back and forth, odd heads darting down to find
some straw or seed, small things they thought were food.
They’d pick up rocks, then seem to spit them out.
A fourth ostrich, one she had not noticed,
came from the side, unseen. Its beak snapped on
her finger like the car door that once crushed
her big toe when she was slow getting in.
Its neck bent wildly away, like a tulip bud
snapping on its stem in wind. Her glove
went, too, then disappeared in the bird’s mouth.
For hours she watched the keepers calm it down.
She hid the other glove in her pocket,
ashamed. A zoo volunteer kept telling
her mother what kids like her need to be taught.
A call that night confirmed the ostrich died.
She ate no food, went to her room and cried,
expecting punishment that never came,
so she felt worse.
. She found her safety scissors,
began to cut her glove to colored strips,
arranged a broken rainbow on the floor,
the khaki carpet peeked between the red
and orange, green and blue. The strips unraveled
into pieces of yarn, some short, some long
as that dead bird’s strangely bare neck, she thought.
One by one she swallowed the pieces, then drew
her knees up to her chest and waited, imagined
a rainbowed hand assembling in her gut.
A fist, it squeezed her stomach into something
so small she couldn’t feel it, the way it twisted
inside her since she saw that ostrich fall.
My Son, Cleaning His Room, Throws Away the Following
The first book he read on his own, its series
of pictures with one word labels, its spine
gone so it can’t be identified when shelved,
goes first. Papers with sketches, meant to be shaded
with crayon follow. The papery, cracking snakeskin
he found the day he hid beneath the deck, scared
by something he could not name; in pieces it will suffer
the fate of a landfill’s decaying sentence.
So many little pieces of his life so far sent
to the low rat-infested hills where steamshovels
move piles and make the earth of waste lay smooth.
Then he moves on to the next task: future
things go into the name-brand, elastic, flexible
trash bag. The letter from a heart-breaking girlfriend
he meets in college—everyone knows their fate
between junior and senior years, but that doesn’t stop their fall
for each other. There’s a stack of brochures and flyers
of churches, museums, and historic sites in Spain and France,
some he’ll visit on a backpacking gap year. Recycling takes files
of essays, curated sources, useless notecards, the facts
assembled for classes. When the room’s bare, he’ll find—
what? Some license? A wedding ring? Nothing. Or a fortune.
Gary Leising is the author of the book, The Alp at the End of My Street, from Brick Road Poetry Press (2014). He has also published three poetry chapbooks: The Girl with the JAKE Tattoo (Two of Cups Press, 2015), Temple of Bones (Finishing Line Press, 2013), and Fastened to a Dying Animal (Pudding House, 2010) He lives in Clinton, New York, with his wife and two sons, where he teaches creative writing and poetry as a professor of English.