The First Place

by Andrew Collard

 

1.

I know this room, its smell of burning
when the furnace turned on for the first time

each fall, how the wind would wake me,
drunk on the impulse to pray. I know

the imperfections in the wall’s white paint
where childhood sketches lived, taped there

back before my hands wandered down like roots
to learn about my body, before the ceiling’s crack

reached toward the window. In the right light
the edges seemed to touch: belief was easy

then, the maple sprouting shadows in the darkened
yard, wind breaking on my second-story wall, threatening,

as though lightning could unmake me through the glass.
I lay back whispering to a god somewhere, to someone

watching just beyond the tree line, feeling the ache
of absence—like feet lose the bottom of a lake.

 

2.

My father lowered me into the water
and raised me up, corralling tears,

before the applauding congregation. I stumbled
out the door to a girl two years older, to the backseat

of the church’s van, eyes widening
as she ran fingers through my still-damp hair.

We were everywhere at once, it seemed, hurtling through—
our universes phasing to a single space, she told me—

as though we’d lost ourselves in some wider pool
of being, reaching toward the other and into sleep.

When I woke, I woke alone, acknowledging
only silence, the nights spent pulling

at stray threads of guilt I followed back
toward the image of a self I might acknowledge,

too often finding silence where I needed names
as leaves fell beyond my window, shed skin.

 

3.

Behind the Laundromat that used to be a liquor store
that used to be a club; behind the overgrown parking lot

and the rows of houses stacked like Jenga blocks
careening toward the suburbs; behind the schoolyard

where a boy discards his jacket and heaves himself
above the gymnast’s bar, by arm strength alone, to hang

like an unsure bat, bored in his eternity—that silence
where the days go on and on as the sky does,

in every direction, and the hours themselves acquire
crevices to vanish through—where nothing happens

or ever has; behind the grove of bushes where we used to hide—
gone now—where she pressed my palm against her belly,

her fingers pulling cloth aside, that place our vision narrowed;
behind the boarded-up windows of the chapel

where we used to mouth our parents’ favorite hymns,
I carry my stretch marks, scars, and crow’s feet

along a street I recognize no longer, that will acknowledge me
no longer, its significance escaping me, as I’ve come to find

even the name of one I loved so desperately escapes me
now, and the visage of the scraggly kid who held her,

the child whom I must put to rest, the one I’ve followed
and must cease to follow, in order to become whoever

I’ll become, that boy who has looked after me as I disperse
and then reform, like weather that I live among and am—

 

4.

The light under the door is enough
to discern the slight parting of your lips, to feel

the slight parting of your lips, as the wind rises,
and you rise to me, this symmetry: the smallest line

that separates us blurs, while downstairs someone thinks
whore and means it. Whatever faith I kept

was just a sketch, removed like those taped here
to soften up the empty walls awhile, old prayers undressing

between our eyes. My gaze can barely hold to yours,
rolling back toward the ceiling’s crack

and touching somewhere strange enough for growth:
the maple’s coat is shed to start again, the season

like an old room to pause in between selves
when there’s nowhere else to stay.

Andrew Collard lives in Kalamazoo, MI, where he attends grad school and teaches. His recent poems can be found in Sixth Finch, Vinyl, and Ploughshares, among other journals.