My neighbor stands on her back stoop, watches me stamp
on shovels, me sweat, me tug up trash trees in my yard.
This yard was all packed dirt, a crap-ass lack of grading.
One old syringe, a hundred broken bottles. She watches me
work. She loves to watch me work on my knees, digging, lifting,
flipping Goshen stone from pallets into pathways, raised
bed for the cherry, its silken iridescent bark. She sighs, Whew!
A lot of work! I smile the way that means shut the fuck up, get back
to, yes, a lot of work. When I finish settling flagstones, pat
their sun-warmed little backs, their gorgeous curves
a mica-gleaming weight from gate to barbecue, she brays
A path to nowhere!, a line I keep, use again and again. All
that work: a path to nowhere. A lush backyard: what’s
the point? Poetry: a path to nowhere, outsiders not knowing
where we are. Here we are! I found us! On our paths, each
ambling along. Sometimes I cried, taught seven classes, cleaned
houses, painted them, waited tables, tended bar. Not true, not
really: I tended bar so badly, and for just a secondask Misty,
anyone. I made gorgeous garnishes, achingly slow cocktails.
A path to nowhere, those cocktails. Like poetry, they got so
much nothing done. A path, though, a way, a way forward:
a way to think through our lives. Our lives, what we want
to do with them. Even my bitch-ass neighbor a gift,
a punchline, each piece a glinting, sun-warmed stone.
Jill McDonough, who teaches at UMass-Boston, is the author of Habeas Corpus and Where You Live; her new book, Reaper, will be out next year.