Michael Teig: Gallery for big back yard
When I Looked Next | Milkweed | Minding the Store
When I Looked Next
I found the orchard anxious with bees and a bowlegged dog
and I knew I was home.
On the opposite hill, the houses strung out like laundry
along the ridgelines and the fields face up.
Shuttling sun. The neighbor lady
sweeping as if god said, Sweep.
I found my father with a seed catalogue and a blue plastic pail.
Hold this, he says, Hold still.
For years I found his shirts in my closet. Apparently the way
I scratch my head is his.
I saw him later at the gas station and spent two nights across
from his ruined face in a bar.
After the music stopped I went on
more or less singing.
In one story we can't stop playing whiffle ball, the trees
done up in uniforms of dusk.
In another my friends and I phone every Richard in the book
including Richard Richards
who is a cousin. I remember a brief cameo with a fire engine,
the sunflowers grown stiff and bankrupt
in the yard, unrelenting.
I have pictures.
They show a man younger than myself with something like evening
settling beneath his eyeglasses,
the afternoon so warm and simple it looks ridiculous
to believe in a day like that.
I've seen beauty;
it gets up earlier than me
and makes few decisions,
bullies the clouds and broken
buildings into place,
the inky grammar of birds,
and then it simply
is landscape, the way
your friends are, or your face, greeting you
when you take your coat off,
put it on. I think it says go
into the yard and I'm in the yard.
Like a broken wheelbarrow
on both elbows,
I watch a spider knit the grass blades,
shaping its hunger.
When night comes a little wind
undresses what's left of the trees
and it's easy to forget about
morning and my companions.
I hope they are sleeping.
If beauty is before us in line,
if it is second-hand, then so be it.
I like the way the neighborhood's
three-legged dog stumbles into my knee
at four a.m. and pawns its wet breath
how morning lands hard on the doorstep
and each dawn almost begins
as a surprise, the mail
in the mailbox, the birds in place,
a neighbor I barely know
stuffing leaves into the leg
of his scarecrow's trouser.
Minding the Store
At work I xeroxed my teeth
until they were huge
white buildings consumed
with moonlight where everyone
had gone home but my father
standing out front fumbling
for his car keys, lighting another cigarette
and it's just beginning to snow
slowly, without conviction
and we're the same age now
and share the same habits and
that bug trapped in his watch
is also trapped in mine.
If I enlarged my forehead
might that little landscape hold
children, clasp house or wife
and half-expect them to wink to life
with a drink in hand, and tired wagons
commitments, card tricks, blue wood smoke
and books lined up in a row like houses
that won't become smaller and smaller
until they are sheds, really, tiny hats, pixels
and the trees aren't much to come home to
and it seems like a hopeless prelude
and I suspect someone close might die
again because the blue heron
exquisite, stretching by the riverside
just bores me.
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"When I Looked Next," "Milkweed," and "Minding the Store" appear in big back yard (Rochester, New York:
BOA Editions, Ltd., 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Michael Teig. Reprinted with
permission from BOA Editions, Ltd.