The Book of Names (Architecture 103)

John Gallaher
| poetry


Suddenly everyone’s friendly. We’re working in the front yard,
Boyd and I, and our neighbor who’s never spoken to us calls out,
“good job!” And now we’re talking. She’s 77. “Early spring,”
she says, and then “my grandkids can’t come up to visit, because,
you know.” “Yes,” we nod. We’re nodders. We wave. We’re
wavers. For years, our dog never stops barking until he passes out.
And now, people pass, saying things like “your dog has a lot of energy!”
We even had him trained once. The trainer didn’t admit defeat,
but got close. He’s turned into another scrap in our box of receipts,
which I now want to find. I want his telephone number.
I want to tell him it’s OK. We all fail. We failed
in continuing the training. Success goes to the one who will do
what no one else will do, and we didn’t. Everything is close.
The soft hug of it, whispering our flux of days, my year-end evaluation,
the last handful of jelly beans, who do I remember
from high school: test your skills. We’re testing our skills.
I’ve started saying “Hi neighbor” to trees and yards.
Someone finds a planet that rotates its star every nine hours.
I imagine doing the math of how old I’d be there. Hey neighbor,
I think, waving at a point in the sky I imagine Mercury to be.
Your year is so long now. All our years are long. All our years
are the same year over and over, mirrored up and down the block.
Even the birds are closer. They’ve taken to landing on our porch rail
I painted white two summers ago, that already needs to be repainted.
“To know is to seek to know,” I whisper to them
from the kitchen window, imagining I’m writing Ecclesiastes.
And I think we have an understanding, that we know what we’re
talking about. My neighbor is passing again. It’s a good
walking street. We say “Hi again,” and laugh. I’m busy
naming the trees Luke, Sarah, Tiffany. It’s like saying,
“What will the future think?” when all we can see is the present.
That we’ll maybe look happy in the photos even though we’re not.

John Gallaher’s most recent collection is Brand New Spacesuit (BOA, 2020). He lives and teaches in rural Missouri, and co-edits the Laurel Review.

Yesterday as Metaphor, Today as Reasoned Disbelief