Jennifer K. Sweeney

Ballad for the Daily Condition

That mostly we do our living in houses,
rooms inside houses within rows of houses
and everyone is a supporting character in the story
of your life and the story is an unevenly written mystery
with unearned existential leanings,
dreams clinging to you until dinnertime
eclipses the afternoon.


That you could be in the house and someone
could crawl through the bathroom window
while you’re scrubbing pots in the kitchen
and the man who leaves only a footprint on the sink
seems to you afterward not a real man,
your wallet warm against his chest
charged with adrenaline, your name
etching its letters in his mind.


That we hurry the days toward an astral future
when there is nothing left to be done.


That we leave our houses
and rub up in subway turnstiles
where phantom hands slide into pockets deep with regret
and you see yourself in the train window
mirrored by the dark tunnel,
see it as you’ve never seen it before,
fluorescent and sad, and you wonder
if you’ve always looked sad on trains.


That people tell you things you can’t dismiss—
the woman who said that every emotion
is at least two emotions
like this accidental defeat laced with intrigue
and it seems the train is traveling away from you.


That we leave ourselves in places like you have left
yourself on the other side of the bay
and the passage is emptying you until
your body knows what the sea knows
is just matter mater mother.


That the circuitry of our brains runs amok in the night.
For months now the car crashes and you are pregnant
or you are locked in the library and pregnant
or the man kidnaps you and you tell him you’re pregnant,
beg him let you go and he leaves you
at the midnight estuary on the condition
you give him your shoes.
Feeling across the breakers and rocks with cut feet,
your body knows to slip into the shallows
and you ride on the backs of seals
toward the pull of empty ships named after women
and there are everywhere seals,
your soles sting with salt
and you wake with their skin cool on your belly.


That we wake all of us in beds in rooms in houses
to reconstruct the familiar.
The train surfaces to light and everyone sways like kelp.
To cross over is no small thing
but still we do it daily, wordless, with eyes half-shut.



“Ballad for the Daily Condition” is from How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009).