Addressed to Robert Lowell
The night attendant at the service station, garishly lit
when I had thought the world extinguished,
pumps $10 of fuel into our tank.
My plastic moneybox looks childish in the car’s backseat,
but the silver coins that spill from its plughole
perform an unexpected magic.
My mother has nothing, and I see how much it matters.
She parks the Toyota on the side of the highway beneath some gums,
their white trunks streaked by the comets of passing cars.
My sister and I have my favourite blanket, gilded with synthetic stars.
At break of day we enter the police station in our dressing gowns.
Two faceless men escort us home
where gravity has finally pulled everything down.
On the carpet are light fittings; the vacant box of the TV;
the roots of plants forced from hiding;
drawers and their contents (folded maps, loosened photographs);
volumes of an encyclopaedia, their hardbacks torn off.
A more comprehensive list is not necessary.
In truth, my room is not as damaged as I want it to be.
My sister’s has been carefully destroyed.
My father is discovered in his bed, eccentric and confused
as one of your old-timers.
But the police know to stay, while my mother picks through the debris
for a bankbook and some clothes, and then
the men in blue lead us away.
There is a brick house with bars on every window.
A room stuffed with bunks and a cumbersome wardrobe.
At the kitchen table, women stub ashen cigarette after cigarette
into a tin ashtray, battered as the moon,
playing show-and-tell with scars, picking over the ruins.
My sister has faith in another miracle of creation.
But I am a child, not a visionary, and I see our mother
has already surrendered to the diabolical romance of return.
My father, cleanly shaven, stands at the door.
Inside, the furious pull of the earth has gentled again,
allowing the furniture—what was left of it—to right itself.
The place looks enough like our home
and our father’s naked face enough like contrition.
We restore our toothbrushes to the bathroom shelf
where our father’s glistening razor sits.
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