One October in the West
Written on a glossy postcard for a niece’s birthday
Just yesterday, I remembered you were born in Massachusetts
on a day I eased down off a freight train
onto oil-blackened ballast in Salt Lake City. So long ago—
and longer for your sister who is brilliant
and sacred to her students in their need—but you,
a cowgirl trucker now, hauling stallions across the Rockies,
were my sister’s first swaddled miracle.
I phoned that day across barbecue America
from Tony’s backyard. Tony—he would die with thousands
who flat-out kept dying of AIDS,
until the government, its own families ravaged,
legalized a cocktail cracked by road-weary veins,
and never admitted thousands of deaths were preventable.
Over the phone, I suggested for you a soft middle name,
sprouted from your great grandfather’s Gaelic essence,
another teamster of horses, Tom the O’Fahy,
old shoe worn to a bare syllabic outcry
across a continent alphabetized by the immigration goddesses—
his children’s name: Fay, the breath of fairies—
like Tony was in his so unMorman backyard,
a sour breeze wafting off the Great Salt Lake
on freight train coal dust, where freezing men bed down
to a boxcar whiskey, and cackle at your first crisp starry night.
Whoda Wanna Thinka Doin That
Up at the 7th floor window of a downtown townhouse
my grip won’t unstick off the top rung of the ladder,
cranked up from cobblestones and tipped in place
against powdery brick, soot, and mortar by the contractor,
descendant he says of Johnny Appleseed,
who cups his hands at his mouth like a megaphone,
“Hook your leg around the ladder and use both hands.”
I won’t look down. “Both hands. C’mon, you bastard, paint!”
I try to, and push the brush along window trim just once
before I clutch the top rung again. “Let go!”
The whole street hears me quail back, “Can’t.”
“Your Fired!” says Johnny Appleseed. “Get off my ladder.”
A week later, working for Vinny the Speed, former sheet-rocker,
he sent me up a scaffold, told me boss around the crew
and paint the ceiling in the brownstone we gutted and sheet-rocked
for the great great something grandson of Mark Twain or so he said,
a cameraman who planned to herd elephants in for photo shoots.
“Who’da wanna thinka doin’ somethin’ like that?” asked the crew.
I crawled up with shaky knees and arms, hair wet from the ceiling,
and barely stood still on those wobbly top planks to roll a coat
of dripping paint let alone boss around—that high
someone sneezed and I clung to the wall like Kafka’s bug.
Michael Daley, born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts, has lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than 50 years. He's the author of 16 books, three of which were published in 2022: Reinhabited: New & Selected Poems (Dos Madres, Loveland, OH), Telemachus, a novel (Pleasure Boat Studio, Seattle, WA), and True Heresies, poems (Cervena Barva, Somerville, MA). He is managing editor of The Madrona Project, an anthology series published by Empty Bowl of Chimacum, Washington. A retired teacher, he lives in Anacortes, Washington.