THE SILENT ONES
Ralph rarely spoke except to grunt
or bark a reply; didn't even urge
on his favorite team in the baseball
games he listened to so faithfully
on the radio in his truck out back.
And Clifford, who lived a life hunting,
trapping and sometimes digging graves,
lived with a woman who talked a lot
but didn't often listen, so Clifford got
little practice in conversation.
Then there's Uncle Len, so stern and rigid
no one had any good memories to report.
He built our house, reproduced and died there
and seems not to want to leave. He'll show
his shadow to a few or slam a basement door.
They lived, worked and didn't complain,
each in the tight little world they so feared
to break apart with words.
ELEGY FOR NEGATIVE CULPABILITY
For what wasn’t,
for what isn’t.
For what we didn’t do
and why and how we didn’t
do what we could have done.
For what we didn’t know.
Forgive. Watch it go.
I asked Grandpa what he meant by saying nought
instead of zero when shouting out prices to Dad
during the annual inventory at our furniture store.
Means the same as zero, nothing, nought! he yelled,
angry as always at his controlling wife. In my childhood
I saw that in time, love could go from all to nought.
Nothing and nought are still said to be the same.
Yet zero turns out to be the start of debt.
Saying I owe you nothing to a credit company
is not the same as saying it to a lover or spouse.
Bankers fell in love with the zero when it arrived
in Italy during the Crusades. They loved the possibilities
of the decimal point. It allowed them to enter
into the devilish mysteries of minus and its percentages.
They happily watched money owed mount and debt
accumulate far into the future. I’m forever in your debt
has now gone from gratitude to retribution. Now you pay
and pay for what you no longer have,
for what you failed to deliver as promised. With a mortgage,
until all the interest is paid, you own no part of the house
you think you’ve bought. In many marriages
the interest is expended in the first few years, unlike a legal
separation that is often used to collect debt on disappointment.
The way my grandmother continued to collect
from my grandfather who hadn’t said no to hungry neighbors
in 1933. Their grocery went bankrupt and she couldn’t forgive
him, their debtors, the times, or the process.
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