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Tarpaper

John Reibetanz
From:   Near Finisterre. Toronto: St. Thomas Poetry Series, 1996, pp. 34-35


I.

Look to the moon, they always said, or listen
     for the creek's unwaning spill of crescendo
         to fill your eyes and ears
in place of green leaves and the cricket's plainsong;
     they will sustain you through the year's
declining light and heat, and your own.

But the creek's words stick frozen in its throat;
     cold has stopped the wind's tin whistle;
         and the moon's no help: its round
idiot face takes in the snow and floats
     trapped where, rivalling hardened ground,
the wash of stars has set to dark blue marble.

II.

I have walked out tonight—called from my warm
     kitchen by black on the horizon,
         deeper than the streaked shoals
of sky that border it—to where the farm
     ends at half-buried, iced split rails.
Moonlight spills through them, shimmer of white neon,

but I can't take my eyes off that black well
     which, closer now, resolves into
         the north wall of a house—
derelict once, bought, half brought back from rubble
     by a handyman's devotion
whose soft slowness thwarts what his hands do.

III.

Last year he picked its withered crop of shingles,
     and on the bared, waterstained wood
         he tacked up tarpaper
in sheets, like sketching-paper on an easil
     propped behind a stack of cedar
he meant to face it with before the cold

set in. The stack, now taller by two feet
     of drift, matches corded hardwood
         heaped against the side
he did finish—a pale wall out of sight
     from here, where one coal-black facade
must stand for the whole house asleep behind it.

IV.

It is enough: although all fall its rawness
     pained like an unbandaged wound,
         tonight the wall prevails
against an enemy that has slung chains
     from eaves and porch, and turned handrails
to glistening treachery. Alone it stands,

black woodstove warming up the earth's cold kitchen
     with its soft, perishable skin
         of tar—preservative
whose power comes from its decomposition—
     in the inhuman dead of winter
standing for what's unfinished and alive.



John Reibetanz's works copyright © to the author.


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