Apr/May 2010 Poetry

Two Poems

by Terri Kirby Erickson

Things We Should Learn in First Grade

Dick, Jane, little Sally and their dog,
Spot, taught me a lot of words, which
I appreciate. But some words are more
important than others and needed stars
beside them to let us know. Even better,
they could have used them in more
meaningful sentences—ones that teach
a lesson you can actually use later in life.
Take for example, the word "run." Run
is a pretty crucial word and needed
rounding out in the meaning department.
How about, "See Jane run because Dick
is messing around with Sally," or, "See
Dick make his third run to the ABC store
in one day," although that might have been
confusing to people just learning the alphabet.
They could even have said, "You can run,
but you can't hide," which would have
applied to Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot,
simultaneously. Instead what we got was,
"See Jane run," without ever knowing
why running was necessary, a lesson best
learned in advance so that when a running
situation comes along, we recognize it
right away rather than three kids, four
rehabs and a nervous breakdown later.


Miller Street

It seems to him the old house bulges like a can of beans with botulism—
that all the misery contained within is seeking a way out. Perhaps
the glass in every window will some day shatter, freeing all the souls
trapped there by what happened to them, who couldn't move on

as they say, to the light. For darkness is a muck that sticks to your shoes,
leaving traces of itself in your sunny new life, no matter how many
times you mop the floors. Your children will be afraid of you,

if only a little, even if you never raise your voice, even if you make them
blueberry pancakes from scratch every Sunday. The muck is there,

you see, in the brown sludge of a gaze that oozes from your face
like a pus-filled wound; it pools around the unnatural smile you flash
at your wife, meant to be tender. You can't be something you don't

understand, though he tries; he tries so hard. But there's a man
in his head—malevolent and taunting—who lived in this house for years.

Even snow melts away from its ancient shingles with the slightest rise
in temperature—as if loathe to brush its white clothes against a thing
that will never be clean. It's for sale again he sees, sporting

another sign in a long history of signs, and he pities the people who buy it.
His father may be dead, but oh, he has stained these walls beneath
their fresh coats of paint, with his hate-filled, spittle-spraying, belt-beating

breath—left something of himself behind like the nicotine-soiled
curtains they'll tell you, come with the house. Well, there is nothing he can
do to save anyone. He learned that early. So he gets in the car and drives
home to his family, his father's ghost clinging to the fender, like rust.


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