Mostly my nightmares are dull. My ex-wife yells
and I yell back. The cat bolts out the door
and bites the neighbor’s child. Or else
I’m raking the yard. Leaves fall faster, faster.
They swamp my ankles, rise up past my knees,
waist, neck—until I’m drowning in dry leaves.
All bourgeois nightmares, sure. But still
I wake up sweaty, short of breath, surprised
at just how little fear it takes to break me.
And worse, some nights I raise the dead. Mom says
it’s fine I didn’t visit her more often.
I didn’t understand that you were dying,
I say. But she just waves my guilt away,
left-handed, as though it were tobacco smoke.
Then Grandmother forgives my vulgar mouth,
and Sister, dead before my birth, confides
that she too loves Ray Charles. Soon Grandma’s talk
of niggers makes me snarl at her. My snarls
make her sulk and her sulking makes me yell.
Mom cries. My sister lapses back into her silence.
I wake up, they die again, and I walk out
into a day Til live as carelessly
as if I’ll only—fat chance —live it once.