From the Middle of It

Out here on Discovery in the song light

of another long day walking sheets

through the blade and drawing shapes

upon the bare walls of the house

my children will someday return to

as strangers and maybe for a moment

remember the summer I worked

like a madman, the land and the house so new

to them every turn was a revelation,

and the well dried up and the cats

each day tossed field mice in small arcs

above the grass like confetti while the boys

tore through the yard on a rush of home

picked berries, feral almost they were

in their joy, every cut close to the bone—

the days of one step forward, four steps back,

stumbling about with the clatter

of hammers and blades, wondering

over clearances and systems, seeing visions

of plumbed lines behind walls

tapping out a slow leak, or a dream

of whatever rot there was

already written into the story of the house;

What it was to want to own and then to wear

the worry of ownership, to wear and try

to shuck it off to chase the boys

around the lawn only to find my father’s voice

coming from my mouth directing

them through tasks with the same measured

calmness that wore me thin when he spoke,

and even as I was returned to myself

I could see no other way to be

and so focused on the small joys:

opening the faucet slowly to the sweet

run of water filling a glass, imagining

the aquifer below us, the well, the pump,

the passageways through which the water

travels, through which it will

continue to pass, and in those moments

I spoke the final words of a poem:

nothing in this world is ours

as we strolled through the mossy paths

of our woods, nothing in this world is ours

to the broken toy, to the broken tool,

to the dead mouse, the dead rabbit, nothing

in this world is ours to the wasted food,

to the hole in the wall, to the wall itself,

nothing in this world is ours whispered

to my boys, my wife asleep in the loft,

my hands passing over the unfinished

work, as I wondered how it would feel

looking back over and over my own flaws

as I made my way through the years,

even the smallest of errors apparent—

I stood there at my life and touched

the edges and wanted to love everything,

even the time it took to get here,

and for a brief moment felt exactly

what I knew I would never have.

Matthew Nienow is a poet and ship builder living in Port Townsend, Washington. His first collection of poems, House of Water will be released by Alice James Books later this year. His poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Southwest Review, Narrative and Crazyhorse, among many other journals. His work has twice been anthologized in Best New Poets (2007, 2012) and has earned him awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Artist Trust. He was named a 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellow by the Poetry Foundation.