Andrew Collard

Elegy with an Unraveling Cassette





Maybe it’s the years, maybe the damage; maybe it’s the sagging brick

of every house I’ve ever lived in, or how a wound enclosed


inside the body, sometimes, isn’t possible to stitch; maybe it’s the body

broken down into the parts that make it, further even than to knuckle


or to bone, so far its elements become absurd, to simple matter,

but when the water recedes—the basement reduced to bare cement—


and my son’s breathing steadies him to sleep against my chest,

I find, again, a hole punched in whatever lets my death ignore me,


a moment that unveils itself in ambush, like smoke at first will seep,

then burst, from a troubled engine, no afterlife to tuck myself away to.


Outside, the bodies are accounted for: one pinned by a fallen branch

before the overpass at Nine Mile, one dragged beneath the belly


of a hydroplaning Dodge while wading toward the median at dusk,

and while the sirens quiet along the avenue, the myth I’ve labeled history


is limping on to empty out its pockets on my nightstand once again,

even as most of it escapes my notice. When a branch of wiry blood


extends undetected across the eye’s white space after weeping—

the universe’s smallest solar flare—we go on seeing, somehow,


and as I lay my boy into his crib, what awareness I briefly wear collapses

back into the cloud of instances I am: myself again, only a little less.





The way gifts of memory appear, belatedly, in vacant rooms and lots

can render logic useless. A stranger’s kiss might remove me to the lips


of a lover I haven’t seen or spoken to a year or more, my hands loosed

on the cresting of some forgotten want, just as a plastic bag


ensconced between a vine’s wild fingers on a neighbor’s fence or

an I love you shouted from the window of a passing car can root me


to a strip of earth, as though I’d sprouted from the sidewalk like grass

reaching through its cracks. The past is always badly seen at best,


dispersing into dark, a shadow of the thing I search for,

until I’m called back by glance, or habit, or a lull in conversation


to the silhouette of one I loved, the houses bobbing along beside us

before they turned to empty plots, the whole street—the pavement


of our child’s first steps—obscured from the freeway by a billboard

plugging the finale of a long-cancelled sitcom. When touring the ruin fails,


again, to yield acontext to how my mouth becomes a draft dodger

and the nights hang, unraveling into darkness like shoddy cassettes, I reel


toward the street, and cast myself from hand to hand along a parade

of those who see some use for me, imagining that our fleeting gestures,


desperate in their tenderness, are jumps and strides up some staircase

ascending out of loss. A deluge of images can seemingly disperse


a single image—bad news diluted by a rash of news—but patience

and a spate of sleepless evenings are all it takes to parse things


and when someone else’s lonely partner texts me risqué lyrics after

drinks at 2 AM, I take two Tylenol and lie back down beside the crib.





Because in spring, some mornings, the light inside of buildings seems

extra artificial, somehow, resigned to wrestle with the spillage


of the rising sun to stay lit; because a stranger shouts and guns

his pickup through our parking lot too early, the pavement relieved


of its debris; because at dawn, the smoke that drifts into my kitchen

every morning from beneath the sink, like clockwork, doesn’t come—


a signal that the sky’s cleared, and our neighbor’s ventured outside

for the day’s first cigarette—when my son wakes, he corrals me


toward the door, and we step out like a held breath, scouring the grass

for last fall’s forgotten leaves, yet to decompose, to cup them


with the shovel of his plastic excavator into piles. Because my memory’s

a kind of current—a neuron’s signal through synapse, a discourse—


and I want to think I can divert its access into something more convenient

than a habit or a trigger, and encase my son’s voice when he tells me Daddy sit,


mid-scoop, for deliberate recall, I watch him closely, to impress his features

to the black holes suspended in my irises—as if one day I might not


recognize him, as if I could forget his earnest invitation to bear witness

to the shifting of the earth, to the texture of loose soil between our fingers,


and how he’s glad of me, his taller and sometimes slow-to-understand

companion—to preserve it all before, one day, the snow will set in


like static at the end of a videotape, before the day there isn’t any snow

at all, no tape, and all that’s left of me is a movement in the curtains, or


a breath on the window in the shape of an old scar, a presence

like a scent clinging to a vase after the flowers and stale water are removed.


Because he points toward the jungle gym and counts two pupas—people—

racing up the stairway to the slide, and pauses to remember something


I will never know, I reach into the still-soft earth and plant a leaf

into the well we’ve dug, and wait for something, everything, to grow.


ANDREW COLLARD lives in Kalamazoo, MI, where he attends grad school and teaches. His poems can be found in Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review, and Crazyhorse, among other journals.