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Cleaning Out the Gutters


ISSUE:  Fall 2005

Even starlight needs work. I hire out, a little light, a little warmth,
a few odd jobs. But who wants to hoist the wooden ladder

against the clapboard siding to clean the copper gutters?
They apron her house at the eaves above like an inner ring of Saturn,

weightless and rare, so the light, textured, a prism of indigo and violet,
green and greener, changes everything, and the view fans forward,

if not into the future, then a mile west to the next farm, where the neighbor’s
setters still look like dogs but smaller if better fed, and the two girls

might be her own but for the yellow hair. Up this high
it’s a kind of ballet, my thousand arms circle the rotting ladder

while its peg legs sink through too-soft earth, and I’ve misjudged how to
cinch the upper rungs, so something slips above me where paper

wasps go on adding to their parish. What do stars know of houses? All’s grist
here in the gutters, hard-packed with seed pods and shingles, acorns, pocket

change and periwinkles, though we’re half a continent removed from either
ocean. At the window just above me drifts something hushed,

talk or sigh, a violin’s double-stop or flute’s arpeggio, hard to tell
because the sound weaves into summer haze before I know those notes

from summer haze. But there’s time to study the lay of things.
The wasps are perfect, their pinched waists flecked top and bottom blue

and green with sunlight—that tenor hum, an aria, then entire chorus.
How quickly I could crush their chambered world with the blunt haft

of an iron trowel, watch the smashed and useless hive spin
backward and away. I wobble, even starlight, on these rungs.

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