After Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania
Each winter that last town in Pennsylvania
crept up without homes lit up at night, only
a small road off the highway where a station
glowed iridescent and pale in snow. My father
pumped gas and gave my brother and I
a fistful of dollars to buy Necco Wafers and Cokes.
Our last stop before grandmother’s. A night drive
and sometimes with bare moonlight those low mountains
rising like someone shadowed under sheets,
in bed, in that moment before knowing. I saved
the yellow ones for last, stacked them tall
upon my tongue, and they waltzed in time and melted.
Before my mother left she gave me books
of great beauty. I read them and did not know then
what Frost meant when he wrote of fences.
All those homes littered on that long drive
through the county lines. And all those people
I will never know the names of. In that cramped car
with my father and brother, I pressed my cheek
against the cold glass of a window and before sleep
dreamed of mothers. After Dansville, some homes
glowed yellow under outer dark, as if each knew
some child was watching, and burning, too.
Refrigerators tacked with photos of other families.
Today my grandmother shuffles in slippers so slow
across the floor and has no mind to sit. And my mother
brews coffee for some settled strangers. And I sit far away
thinking of names for children I might never have.
How I might call one back to me while pumping gas
to stuff another dollar in his hand and ask
for a roll of candy to place gentle in my mouth
while I drive in one direction to visit the man
who raised me, or in another to see the woman.
Those winters, upon arriving, my grandmother stood
at some odd hour of night to greet us at her door,
and she held my hand to sit me down, too tired to sleep.
One Day, This Night
One day, when what small prediction of weather
has come true, and the snow does fall six to eight inches
over Dansville, Henrietta, and Canandaigua, and my aunt
holds my grandmother’s arms as she steps ginger-footed
and yet sure out the house on her way to church,
I will be too far gone from family that even my blood
will not run upriver on the Genesee when I cut
my finger as I skip a rock or bend long and low
to measure how the dog bites. Though this night,
after dark, before sleep, I sit drunk and furrowed
at the bar watching the local news count down
the demolition of some building in which I have
never set foot. And the dead come to me as cities do—
slow and steeped in my unknowing, until I look up
to see their sorrow scraping the sky, and still mine.
Just as one evening, as a child, that pitched dark
before Christmas, I walked silent on my toes
past the closed door of my grandmother’s to listen
to her breathe. And the Oldsmobile of her husband
long since taken from the garage. And the taste
of a warm doughnut still in my mouth. How I did not know
then, and even now cannot conceive, how the dead
might appear in the dreams of the living. At some moment
of stillness. Low breathing. Silent. Each morning
when I made you tea in your moment before waking,
I thought of this. Stepping soft-footed into your room
as shadows do, and the sun heavy and yet rising,
and the light waltzing in some kind of time
across the floor. I placed the steaming mug just beside
your eyes, still closed. And I sat and closed mine
and tried to think my way into a dream and
always failed. That building, as they count down
its demise, still stands. All those rooms I will
never know as memories. And all this love
I call my own. What steeped sadness comes speaking
to me as I watch the ball swing into concrete.
The volume low, and no sound. The way you hushed
me so soft before sleep, as if our silence might keep us safe.
DEVIN KELLY is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, where he serves as the nonfiction editor of LUMINA. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, Forklift Ohio, Big Truths, Passages North, and more, and he has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Upper Manhattan, and teaches Creative Writing and English classes to 7th graders and high schoolers in Queens, as well as the occasional children’s poetry workshop at the New York Public Library in Harlem, where he currently lives. You can find him on Twitter @themoneyiowe.