Ranch House

He knew. . .


when he woke in the thick of too silent a night
by the time he tossed off his quilted zoo
and wambled to his door to close it so softly
that no one stumbling into the hall would suspect he was awake
and come tuck him in with a kiss on the cheek
so pungent as to make it impossible from him to breathe
the air in his room for hours without
retching or worse, that is, unless
he opened his window. But the season was cold. . .


He knew from the sounds: the slam of the freezer
door, the crack of the ice tray, the dumping
of cubes, the stirring of cocktails, the shake
of the glass, the bump of the corner, the slur
and the laugh, the voice from the sibling (a sister,
careless and brave in her still half-slumber,
interrupted tonight as three times last week,
but she’s reached the age where it’s too late to learn)


then the floor-quivering footsteps, the slaps and the spanks
and the yells and the shouts and the cusses and slurs
and the slobbering sobs from the sister next door
and the footsteps returning, the bump of the corner,
the slur and the laugh and the laugh and the laugh,
then the plop and the snore and the laugh and the plop
and the second snore scored out of sync, with
the light from the hall underscoring his door
like a challenge from hell. . .
                                                        that regardless of whether
he turned on his bedlamp, bit down on his bears,
dragged his quilt to the kitchen to cover the hulks,
phoned up his uncle to come spend the night,
tiptoed to the corner to turn off the light,
or went to make certain that Sis was all right. . .


that the sinks would be spotted, the bedclothes all messed
in the morning, and he and Sis would have
a lot of cleaning up to do.


And all with the silence of long-abandoned stoneworks.

About the Author

James B. Nicola is the author of six collections of poetry, the latest being Fires of Heaven: Poems of Faith and Sense (Shanti Arts). His decades of working in the theater culminated in the nonfiction book Playing the Audience: The Practical Guide to Live Performance, which won a Choice award.