In the polaroid in a drawer of the house
the other relatives picked over, I’m the blur in the background,
mop of silvery hair. The rasp of the ash pan when you empty the stove
is a bit like my voice, stuck in the chimney like a nest.
You won’t have to know how I procrastinated, of my abiding fear
of snakes, or how I gave terrible presents when I bothered to give them at all.
I was told by a psychic to remember the unloved dead,
and so I did, but not in a way they would like,
recalling how they got ugly when they drank
or stole the loose change from the laundry
when they thought nobody saw. I spent years
writing my last letters, writing off the debt of a cold bed,
pretending I was busy when really I was home
pinned to the couch by a cat.
For money I did many things—trapped muskrats,
forged thank you notes, let men pet me while I danced.
Mostly I played the role of someone who cared,
tilted in my chair and trying to appear engaged—
the preoccupied uncle you weren’t quite sure you liked.
That’s me smoking in the Winnebago, leaving the sink
clean of hair. I’m there deadheading the rhubarb
nobody bothers to pick and my worthless collections—
rag rugs, concrete gnomes—
were most likely put out in the trash.
Sometimes I lied when I was bored. I wanted you
to know what I knew, though I eventually gave that up
preferring to make you laugh.
This life I led was mostly private, and hours were spent
sweeping bat guano from a crumbling set of stairs.
Nobody knew the half of it, and nobody seemed to care.
I foresaw how neglected the town cemetery became,
glimpsed in a vision the rusted fence that let in the deer.
They stripped the bark from the junipers
that eventually came down in a storm.
I was in that storm, blown out across the ice
toward Arcadia. That’s a town in Wisconsin
and not some name for paradise.