To Janet


There’s a picture of you I keep going back to.

You are five or six, sitting next to Valorie in the dirt and weeds.
There’s a hose nearby, one you drank from on hot summer days.
Valorie is holding Brutus between her legs. He’s dressed in doll’s clothing.

The front yard is very different from the back.
Fun piles of fall leaves, shiny lunch boxes, big trees, and
excitement when the school bus comes.

Front yard girl is different from backyard girl.
Front yard girl wears pigtails and hand-sewn dresses,
plays with Tammy and Raggedy-Ann and Andy.

You are the dog.
Brutus, Brutus, lo siento.
You are the hose turned off, eyes black as its disconnected end.

Backyard girl gave herself a haircut, and has bags under her eyes.
Cutoffs, hand-me-down navy blue shirt, long-sleeved.
Valorie is your mother outside, keeping you from mother inside,
the mother who drinks and wanders the house like a specter.

Specter

noun:

a visible incorporeal spirit, especially one of a terrifying nature; ghost; phantom; apparition.

some object or source of terror or dread.

As it was October, you were probably on the verge of knowing.
Knowing that your father would conjure up more ghosts
as he readied to leave earth.
So you turned inward, your core made of leaves and songs
and anger that rises when your survival is touched.

Then you grew older, and the ghosts followed you from town-to-town.
Though already dead to you, they died second deaths to draw you back,
entering your dreams at night like some dark tribe.

So you started to put it down, to find your way through the landscape.
Though the curb appeal is still in front, death’s sandbox is still in back,
full of necessary toys.

Hug yourself.
Hug the ghost of Brutus.
Say to your heart, thank you for keeping me alive.

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