Girl, why don’t we ever talk?
Why can’t we get beyond the likes
and tweets; digit-devil stickers, gifs
of grumpy pixel kitties, outraged
penguin memes and smiling
piles of poop. Girlfriend, choose
your own emoticon. Facebook
wants to know your mood. Cursor
hovers over link and click!—up pops
a cartoon. Your inner life.
Why don’t we talk
the way we did when phones
were only phones? When we would lie
in analog embrace at night, whispering
into each other’s hair: I saw twin
terriers today, strutting in red sweaters
in the park. Kids wobbling on new bikes
with training wheels.
A skinny woman by the lake banged
trash can lids and rasped out
“Onward, Christian Soldiers”
in Janis Joplin’s voice.
Why can’t we sing like Janis?
Let’s roar and wail
let’s shout—no texting from
the living room. I need to hear
my name in words, sibilant against
your teeth. I’ll say yours back,
round and delicious in my mouth.
Tell me something I don’t know
then something that I do. Sing a story,
cry a poem, whisper your secrets
into my deepest sleep.
And let me count the ways
I love you, old-school,
on my fingers, one by one.
The camera’s eye captures
talking back to a NextDoor thread on security cameras
front porch, sunny steps, walkway
to sidewalk in late afternoon,
shows gumdrop-shaped bushes, a tree
with its feeder overrun
by jays and mockingbirds, ransacked by squirrels,
surveilled by cats, filled daily
by the young girl who steals sunflower seeds and eats them,
humming quietly to herself as she wanders back inside.
… old man walking his old dog
emerging from darkness into
the streetlight’s muzzy yellow pool
and back into darkness again. The dog, unleashed,
sniffs and pees, pees and sniffs, no bush left
unexamined or unmarked.
… old beater car cruising the block,
man walking slowly, talking into the air.
He could be crazy.
He could be on his phone.
… two boys on skateboards carving
wide esses down the steep street, light
to darkness, out of sight.
Two other boys in hoodies, fat joint glowing
hand to hand between them.
... no sign of trouble, no reason
for its own existence this quiet summer night.
Not the face behind a curtain
at a nearby window, the face of someone
wondering if they should have bought
a gun. Behind this face a house, just asking
to be ransacked. Huge TV. Tiny clever phones.
Shelves stacked with souvenirs, closets crammed
with suits, pockets packed with crumpled twenties.
Midnight up and down the block—
some neighbors glad they’re not
unarmed, their houses safe tonight
from whatever tomorrow’s replay
will reveal: dark shapes quick
fleeting, nearly shapeless
in the dark before dawn.
Some basic math and its aftermath:
2 boys plus 2 boys, teenagers: a gang
overrunning the night street
I saw it in the paper
so close to your walkway
did you hear what happened
to your steps, to your dead-
bolted camera-watched front door
those kids that hang around
Is the back door locked?
just asking for trouble
What about the windows?
be careful what you ask for.
that sound like safety—
sound as if
armed and dangerous
you just might could go home
Never mind the slingshot
in your closet, your son’s old
BB pistol still on some shelf
Toys can’t save you.
Lately you’ve been feeling naked
out here on the righteous Left Coast
out of touch with Cousin Billy,
Uncle Gordon, hounds and whiskey
and the rest.
Baby, you can take your kumbaya
and grease it good.
where the sun don’t shine
You thought you’d long since
sliced that wet red cord—
But voices have begun to call
Banjo, fiddle, dobro
moonlight tipping liquid
into Clifton Gulch through restless
curls of fog.
Once your uncle, reeling drunk,
killed a man because
he could. Punched Aunt Bess
and broke her jaw. Stood then,
stands now for all you thought
you’d left behind. And yet
his wild high tenor wail put you
on your face in the dirt
every time. Every damn time.
His boot on your neck
could keep it there.
If we could take the music,
walk away from the rest—
Now you understand the words:
(heavily, to the teeth),
Dream of safety, know
it's a dream.
Dead birds drop like rocks.
GUN HOP says the sign.
You’re two freeway hours from home,
out in the vast valley where
you know no one. Gravel crunches
beneath your shoes.
Bonfire of skulls
Bonfire of hoods and crosses
Loose feathers balance on the wind.
They take their time but they fall also,
in the end.
Dusk in Winter
In the warm barn, three horses,
two chestnuts and a bay, turn
to regard you as you enter
on a gust of wind, shaking snow
from your shoulders, slapping
gloved, unfeeling hands
against your thighs.
You break bales open, fill three
nets with hay, three pails of water.
From the feed room you hear
the horses snort and stamp. Grain
rattles into buckets. The eager bay
bangs his door with steel-edged hooves:
Hurry! And you do.
Bad news, distrust and anger
ride the rising wind outside. Market’s
down, your truck needs tires, Bill Blake,
old friend, dear friend, has died
all but alone, tube in his throat,
as people do this year.
His kids will sell the ranch.
Bare branches crack and rattle.
More snow on the way, or sleet.
Black ice by morning, peril hidden
in plain sight. Inside, though—
warm smells of hay and horse,
dust and mouse and leather.
Nothing looms that cannot be explained.
You’d sit here in this beat-up
canvas chair forever if you could.
Sara McAulay is the author of two novels (Knopf), a novel for young readers, and numerous works of short fiction (Black Warrior Review, California Quarterly, New American Review, Third Coast, ZYZZYVA, among others). She received an NEA Fellowship and a New Jersey Council on the Arts Fellowship in prose. After many years away from writing, she has turned to poetry while completing another novel.