Last Day with Mayflower
We slept on ripped quilts in the trailer’s shade
or on pads in the cab between jobs.
The boss called us backs—our animal use—
and I was a back in the grey Navy town.
We sweated in the long pants they made us wear
but few of the men I worked with cared—
most had just come from state prison or jail.
This was a two-truck, no-piano move—
all a young housewife’s things, bound for storage.
Her husband, dead and buried at sea.
We saw him in the newspapers we used
to wrap china and all the fragile things.
Dress whites, white smile, a West Point degree—
a crisp officer on a submarine.
He died in sunlight, a calm dry-ground day,
his jeep, his last dumb moment, and a train.
Now the house they bought became a train to her.
Their togetherthings became a train.
II. That April I worked with Booze and Davis,
four-handed Booze our shoplifting king,
and Davis of sharpened screw-driver fame.
Davis was born tired and raised lazy.
They’d talk and laugh for ten hours a day.
I grew to like them—the way one can like
a man who lifts the other end of a dresser
or even takes the heavy end and walks backwards
down the stairs and up the ramp when you’re sick
or too stoned or hung-over to lift much.
We were takers of sorts, a home turned house.
Making echoes by slow degrees
done when the house rang hollow and vast,
like the air inside a tire or a church.
III. The young widow was beautiful that day
in her heavy grief and her bravery
and she was kind to us though we walked in
like children who’d been kept from all sadness,
singing, even, and blasting the radio,
to try and drown the dull work in music.
She’d stand on the porch and stare at the truck
with great blue red-rimmed eyes and then she would
bring boxes of china and books to the ramp.
She brought us cold water and sandwiches.
The last to be moved was the barber’s chair.
It sat in the den, an enameled anchor.
Her husband’s chair from his father’s will.
IV. She seemed to want to carry it alone.
She had tipped it on its side and pulled it,
all wrong, with her arms and it left a long
gash in the polished hardwood floor.
Next she hooked her fingers under the headrest
and pulled the weight against her chest
as one rows a boat or pulls a fishing net
until the blood in her arms and legs drained
and she dropped the chair heavily down.
How I wanted Booze and Davis to be quiet then.
I wanted not to have to ask them this.
Not to laugh at her in the hollow house.
This would be my last day, my first day, moving.
I should have said then—but how could I?—
that there must be a snow-quiet for her,
a slow quiet like the river tides,
the blue silence of a tired star,
the kind of silence that follows a train.
“Last Day with Mayflower “first appeared in The Southern Review, vol. 39, p.115, 2003.