She's slim and seems distracted, the social worker
who visits my apartment, who wants to know
why my ten-year-old was alone New Year's Eve
when the cops came through the door.

His mother was drunk, I say, and I was up north
with my girlfriend who doesn't want any more kids.
Would she like a cup of tea?
We do have some problems here, I know ---
as I forcefeed old newspapers into the trash ---
but hopefully nothing too unseemly,
no disarray that can't be explained.

I want to say I've tried
to find another way to live,
away from the electric metal wires
that whisper to me in the afternoons,
the snake dreams that follow after,
uncoiling slowly in my sleep
and the supermarkets where I go unconscious,
humming to myself and staring, minutes at a time,
at the olives and loaves of bread.

There's not much to show for all this:
four rooms, a dented Olds, tattered pictures
of Che Guevara and Muhammed Ali,
the Sixties with their fire and music
scattered like highway cinders. Does the State
offer therapy for aging single fathers? Is it all right to smoke?
Would she like to step into the back where it's dark
and fuck, standing up amid the laundry?
She smiles vaguely, hands me her card,
says she won't need to return.

Later I think this must be what it is
to get older. My knee hurts getting up
from the couch. Can't work like I used to,
and my chest hairs are turning gray.
I'm angry with my son, now quietly asleep,
for needing help with everything: homework,
breakfast, rinsing the shampoo from his hair;
and sad, as I gather his small raincoat,
the baseball hat saying Surfs Up,
hang them over a chair, and start washing the pot
of day-old spaghetti we ate for dinner.

I listen to Miles with the lights off,
knowing the phone won't ring any more
and too tired to shower. I listen to my breath
leave and return, rain falling
into the cold trackless night,
and the wind in the trees outside
like someone passing.

--- From Overtime
Joseph Millar
© 2001, Eastern Washington University Press
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