As simple as sitting on the back porch, / drink in hand, staring into midnight’s blue-black reminds the man / of the darkest room he ever lived in before he met her, / before he knew there would be love, for him / the only reason to get out of bed the duty / to the life he was given, not joy or beauty, / but faith he had an obligation to move through his days because he had / some role to perform, some fidelity even to the hole inside which opened / him raw to the world, its slights, its cool way of being / so distant that he always felt three steps slow, / behind, whatever word you want to describe him / never syncing with the game all the other little boys / and girls learned to play on the day he must’ve been sick. / That darkest room that no streetlight, no lamppost, / no motion-sensor yardlight angled into so that when / he laid in bed those so-many nights / awake and curious and scared, he could barely make out / the ceiling above, his eyes tricking him into thinking it had / disappeared, only a starless night now to examine and question, / to yell into when it of course keeps silent, as it always does. /
Reminds the man of that same pose, that same cold drink / drunk during a Tennessee winter not so unlike / this Indiana spring, only the stars shifted to their new places, / but still the same desire to hold them in his hands if it means a wish / or a moment’s warmth, anything to help him through / another night and day when light comes brilliant and fair, / when it shows him there’s a purpose to live for / and with and out even if it’s hard / to believe.
The man tires of his small sighing, / his whole woe-is-me attitude, his sullenness, the dark cloud / raining rain no one but him sees. His despair, his hangdog look, / how he carries his heart so heavy / he can’t stand straight, is bent by the world into a walking / question mark. His gloom and dread for what might come, / his dejection, his despondence, his cheerless way of opening / the front door and holding the boy so it feels he’s still a present / father. The doldrums he feeds on, the blue devils he welcomes home / years since they had him in an ocean floating, somehow, / farther and farther from land. His hope / disappearing with each of her calls to him, his spirits lowed, / how his favorite songs are always bands’ saddest. /
Imagine if I talked about it, if I let it loose when people ask after my day, he thinks, if I was true about any of it. The man hides / as much as he can, especially grief, especially / when no one wants honest answers; they have their own light / they want undimmed. So he buries it deep / to nourish it into something larger than he’ll ever be.
Michael Levan has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Arts & Letters, Iron Horse Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Ruminate, and Hunger Mountain. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Saint Francis and writes reviews for American Microreviews and Interviews. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife, Molly, and children, Atticus and Dahlia.
Photo by Yosuke Watanabe