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
- 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).