The Collar
Methought I heard one calling, ‘Childe’;
And I reply’d, ‘My Lord.’
—George Herbert
Do I lie in bed and listen to the morning dove coo?
No, as again the men next door have started
without me. Alarm at dawn: chorus of percussions 
tempoless, directionless. Shingles busted up, 
their brittle plates dropped in avalanching fizzles
—all below my lazy golden curtains. Hammer falls
echoing syllables—present, present—a roll call.
So quickly I get up and put the kettle on the stove.
 
Late, guilty, a teacup in hand, I add a bag of soil, 
a glug of primer, a shovel-full of white sand.
It’s not the first time; the guys won’t mind.
I’ve yet to meet this crew, or even see them, ever, 
but there’s a friendliness about these messengers
flailing crowbars and nail claws to pry loose 
wrecked feathers of paint-bubbled asbestos.
Under moth masks their tongues are on the run 
in a language my grandpa could speak in a jam, 
though he never dared be overheard, afraid
to be mistaken for a liberal.
                                               At the table now, 
in my steel toes, and rubbing the rust from my knee, 
I await the late whistle and review the schedule. 
Today we’ll strip the old fisherman’s house
to inoculate the sight for the demolition crew
set to arrive, ten strong, within the week. 
When the teapot groans I lift it to its labor
 with a grace unfathomable to laypersons. O,
 but have mercy, for not until my fifth gulp
 is it rendered unto me
                                      that I’m not a carpenter 
 nor plumber, mason nor electrician, and there’s 
 nothing wrong. 
                           I’m a guest in a hostel on a hill 
 named Happy—a Chilean vacation in my twenty-
 fifth year. It’s January, the dead of summer here.
 I can go back to bed, 
                                    back to Maria of Valparaiso, 
 who I met in the park yesterday, who called out 
 “Americano” in lieu of my fine Christian name.
 She’s still asleep
                              undisturbed 
 by my gallop out of bed 
 and the spooking of the sheets.
                                                   She knows of me
 as little as she wears—this absolutely nothing 
 she said she prefers, even at the dinner table
 eating empanadas.
                                From the foot of the bed
 the sound of her sleeping is the hilltops humming 
 in a glance above the city.
                                             But as I lay me down
 I go forth in penitence, my ear newly attenuated
 to the real in the next noise heard
                                                        —There! 
 far off, another host of hammers—but from such 
 a distance it’s impossible to know
                                                         for sure
 the story I hear: is it nails pounded in, building up;
 or glass panes smashed, tearing down?
  
 Voiceless but not songless, 
                                              a cadence floats up 
 on a brightening tide in the day-lit window 
 of her shirtless chest.
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