End of Summer, Kearny New Jersey
The boys play soccer in the last days
of August with other things on their minds,
knives in jewelry boxes, money they couldn’t save,
the girl behind the bowling alley counter with
eyes like dead leaves and skin like the snow
that runs through your hands when you try
to hold it. The boys leave the fields
so slowly, knowing how things change.
They go home to brothers who wash cars
over and over, dripping out knowledge with
dirty water. They lick their lips to talk
about women and what they read in
National Geographic, how a snake can bite
one place and it feels like you’re being hit
with a hammer in another. The boys
climb onto rooftops in the dusky light
of rising moons to help fathers put down
shingles for the winter, one on top of the next,
lying in rows like brothers. They stare
at the twisted shapes of muscle and bone
in their father’s backs and compare the shingles
to the skin of his heart. The boys
sleep in twenty year-old beds. In the moments
before dreaming, they pray to the God
of dead relatives, the God of carefully
wallpapered walls, the God of pennies.
They pray the same way they will sleep,
restlessly, waiting always for the days that bring
the first cold breeze, sneaking in through
their open windows and over their bodies,
the breath of the men they will become.
My Neighbor Marsha
My neighbor Marsha is maybe dying—
the kind of cancer that is impolite, that
talks over her, interrupts her mid-step
to leave her sitting in the driveway
unexpectedly, the sudden weight of her
She is okay with leaving she says,
but her husband is Clark Kent without
a phone booth, powerless as the
fast heart beating away fast time.
She tells my wife that she wants him
to marry a large chest
if she’s gone, that he has earned
something to play with, something to
rest his head on for dreaming. But he is
mated for life. I can tell we are both
the same—we the bald eagles, swans,
we the gray wolves.
Marsha likes dogs more than people,
sings to the plants, says each and every
true thing. She is excited about her hair.
It is growing back tough and twisted
as crabgrass. She wonders where it was
sleeping all these years.
Was it underneath the soft, scared strands?
She hears the tight curls at night scraping
and struggling, doubling like dough,
crackling electricity of yeast building
a new house. It is not to be denied.
It has set its mind to life.
Josh Humphrey is the author of Afterlife, a chapbook that includes photos by his father Bill. His poems have appeared in Lullwater Review, Paterson Literary Review, Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow, Talking River Review, Lips, Journal of New Jersey Poets, US1 Worksheets, Epicenter, Soundings East and Oberon. It has been anthologized in Rabbit Ears: TV Poems and Beyond the Rift. He works as a Library Director in Kearny, New Jersey.