Poem – The Living Room

The Living Room
	After a conversation with Barbara Hale

All my life
I’ve cleaned my house at night
when the cars have stopped running
and the crickets begin singing

Under the white bulb in the living room—
vacuuming cookie crumbs from the carpet and
dusting the dead television,
pressing feathers on broken speakers.
They’re not blown out; just faulty wiring.

Watching the red lips of the local anchorwoman
I’ve learned to read her quiet words.
Flat-cheeked, her round eyes
Are endlessly searching.
Eye to lips when I look up from TV dinners,
Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes,
we never make eye contact.

Gentle with the paintings
and pictures on the walls;
they hang with glass faces—
short nails in thin asbestos—
tempting gravity always:

Johnny—as a one-year-old baby—has red hair
no one in the family has.
He also has a rare smile and
tiny teeth that never knew cavities.
They fed him broccoli and Shanghai bok choy.
I didn’t know him.
He was older and died young for his time:
42.	Heart attack.
“He was a fit 42,” I remember someone saying.

His legacy lives in this first house he bought
and didn’t have the heart to sell
even when he finally moved
to his estate in the hills.

I never liked that one.
The ceilings are too high, and
the maids and butler and cook hear everything.
Even when they were in their quarters,
I felt their ears listening
as grandmother told me she loved me only,
while watching me put the bears and dolls
back to their places on the shelves.

This first house is easier to keep:
three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen
and the living room.

The fireplace isn’t big
but watches the room and breathes warmth
to the occupants.

The master bedroom is the only room
big enough to fit a king-sized bed,
but most nights,
the three cushions of the living room’s couch hold me,
and loose change now and then.

The hardwood floor has been replaced once
when grandmother left the kitchen sink running
and locked herself out of the house.
There was little damage.
Johnny just wanted consistency.

The house is still a bit cold
from the years when no one,
lived in it.

-Chang
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