At the Peripatetic School of Warrendale

5AM, a spattering of robins and wrens
chattering about the coming light

                   and the dangers of the waking world
in a balding ash.  A television blares

through an open window while someone sleeps
to the cavernous declarations of a demagogue.

                   An oak tree leans precariously over
the mossed and scabrous roof. 

In a neighborhood similar for its relics
                   of fire and crouching vacancy, two miles

and two decades back, I eat popcorn
with my mother in an attic room.

She does not speak like there are pills
(Zoloft and clozapine) tucked beneath

her tongue.  She has spent the evening
canvassing for Jesse Jackson, which makes it 1987.

           She doesn’t think the police are after her.
Our dog sits at our feet scavenging stray

kernels.  In a similar mind I imagine
          plainclothesmen in unmarked cars tonight. 

She is the television light on that drywall as 
I pause to hear, “They are gone.  Gone! 

Day one.”  We are pale ghosts.  Our dialogues
have been intercepted and combed over,

              rendered harmless by the state.
Nobody worries that we float here

when we can’t sleep.  Our forebears are those
countless comatose, their stone ears

attuned to the slow work of resurrection.
My mother’s puffy hand grips
an aluminum cane now when she walks.
Some days she insists that they still listen

                 to her thoughts.  One day these birds
will wake without her, just as I am becoming

              narcotized to the squandered years
we could have spent discussing

SSRI and anti-psychotic cocktails
and this feeling that some mendacious

bureaucratic force has long been watching
                                               over us. 

- Cal Freeman

Cal Freeman's writing has appeared in many journals including Commonweal, The Journal, Passages North, New Orleans Review, and Manchester Review.  He is the recipient of the Howard P. Walsh Award for Literature and The Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes).  He is the author of the chapbook, Heard Among the Windbreak (Eyewear Publishing), and two collections of poems, Brother of Leaving (Marick Press) and Fight Songs (Eyewear Publishing, forthcoming 2017).