I know winter is ending when I get my annual love
letter from the seed company. And isn’t every letter
a love letter? On Valentine’s day I make my own
potting soil and plant hope in peat, dung, and
vermiculite. Its been two springs since greedy nutria,
in their underhanded unearthing of roots underfoot,
stole it from me. There’s fleeting happiness in making another
full and whole, but that’s never enough. Last year
I never opened my love letter. My field lay fallow.
This year I (superstitiously) wrote
to a new seed company and my new lover
sent me a Valentine. I smelled the envelope—
a carburetor cleaner high—licked ridges of
paper glue seal, this organic fuel pressurized
my insides, powered ambition. I snapped survey lines
for fencing. Desperate to engineer something beautiful
for myself. Something worth shielding from their rat teeth,
something to look forward to. I tie six, eight, ten, jute knots
each one foot apart. I want to get more than angles right.
Wielding worn faithful three-pound cross-peen
I pound stakes into earth. Mis-strike bruises off hand,
with pain misaim again, overstricken faith broken
like the headless tool shaft in hand. Which are the sacrificial
parts? Can an engineer’s sledge plucked from Dollar General
be replaced by a different, maybe better, model. What do I owe
a common drilling hammer. I never asked much of anyone,
so I don’t know why this molten lead pouring of guilt
for others. It falls out of my umbilical scar and other times
it squashes sternum, this student loan of unpayable debt.
I’m built on guilt, and fueled by it too, new me knows this
and wants to pump elbows, knees, and heart and flee.
I spent winters dribbling and running the offense,
but I know now I’ve spent many more years
as a former athlete. Even when with ear against chest I felt
last breath from that better father, that better former athlete
and learned muscle mass and resting heart rate can’t stop death
from within. Resting heart rate feels different now
that thirty-two might be half-court. Panic finds me in
the Garden tonight, I see Kierkegaard’s ghost
pushing the point guard across the court, he steps
out of his mind amongst a sea of squeaking sneakers,
I grab for ground, but doubt and death tick away like the arm
of that sloppy chopping zebra conducting from behind,
and I see the point guard cross that line seconds before
any violation could be called. I know why he sprinted
to safety and why he risked nothing, and
you can’t cross half-court twice in the same possession,
but I might.
Peter H. Michaels’ poetry was published by Barren Magazine. His poetry book reviews were published by PANK magazine’s blog and Sugar House Review. He was the 2018 winner of the Burt Dall Fixed Form Poetry Contest at Anne Arundel Community College, where he studied creative writing. His website is peterhmichaels.com.
The text And isn’t every letter a love letter? is from the 1997 novel by Chris Kraus I Love Dick, in which the protagonist grapples with her unrequited love for a cultural critic named “Dick ____” by writing him letters.
Cagibi Issue 5
Browse Cagibi Issues