From the shadowy upstairs bedroom
of my mother-in-law’s house in Hamden
I hear the neighbors’ children waking.

“Ahhhhhh,” says the infant, not
unhappily. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!,”
replies the toddler to his mother,
who must have forbidden something.
It is hot already at this hour
and the houses are wholly open.
If she is cross with the child
anyone with ears will hear.

The slap of sprinkler water
hitting the sidewalk and street,
and the husband’s deliberate footfalls
receding down the drive . . .

His Japanese sedan matches the house.
It isn’t quite beige
and it isn’t quite brown.
Yesterday he washed the car, his arm
thrust deep into something that looked
like a sheepskin oven mitt.

His wife had put the babies
in the shallow plastic wading
pool, and she took snapshots, trying
repeatedly to get both boys to look.
The older one’s wail rose
and matched the pitch of the cicada
in a nearby tree. Why

is the sound of a spoon on a plate
next door a thing so desolate?
I think of the woman pouring a glass of juice
for the three-year-old, and watching him
spill it, knowing he must spill it,
seeing the ineluctable downward course
of the orange-pink liquid, the puddle
swell on the kitchen
floor beside the child’s shoe.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 5 Number 9, on page 48
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