The following poems are taken from the book A Wandering City (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1992), by Robert Kendall.


    And then there was the time I saw my death
    approaching on the sidewalk.
    The pavement seemed to flow from its body like
    the light from a burned-out bulb.
    Its face was an empty chair in a back room
    and somehow I knew I would sit there
    breathing in the cheap cigars of its eyes.
    It was passing out leaflets, passing out buttons.
    It was trying to kiss the babies.
    The air around it was turning to tears and
    ten-dollar bills with my name on them.
    And yes, all the curtains were parting and the
    fire hydrants were stepping out for the last time.
    Never had the garbage lining the curbs looked
    more beautiful. The sounds of the cars
    turned to applause.
    In desperation, I crossed to the other side
    of the street. It didn't seem to notice me and
    continued on its way, scratching dogs on the head.
    I looked around me, still trembling.
    The faces bobbed in the crowds as calmly as ever,
    clutching their ghosts in their eyes like lottery tickets.


    One day the postcards started coming.
    Mr. and Mrs. Johnson knew then that no dream was safe.
    He was always such an unassuming boy, never one
    to take himself literally. He would carry
    covered baskets along the trails of their imaginations,
    always something to make them feel wanted.
    But now he wrote that he'd be arriving in a few months.

    The Johnsons added a new room onto the house
    to keep just the way he'd left it.
    The postcards had mentioned how he often
    thought of warm breezes in the wallpaper trees
    around his bed, so they had the room wallpapered.
    He said it was always winter in the imagination.
    As they made the preparations, Mr. Johnson would
    catch his wife eyeing him nervously, and he too
    wondered what the world would next fill its pockets with.
    In the mornings, now, they would count
    all the silverware of their sleep.

    When the saucers of milk started appearing
    around the house, they sensed that something else
    would soon come in out of the cold. Sometimes
    they even thought they could make out
    paw prints on the clean floors of their conversations.
    They talked of roses and weekends at the beach house,
    but chilly air leaked in between the lines.
    Their thoughts began to leave articles of clothing
    on the carpet, magazines open on the chairs.
    Mrs. Johnson would say nothing as
    she picked the black lace panties up off the sofa,
    but the worry showed in her face.
    The day of his arrival approached.
    By now, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were afraid
    to sleep at night, fearing that
    waking up might not make a difference.
    They would stroll through their garden until
    the early hours of the morning, taking comfort
    in the resolutely June dirt underfoot,
    yet each step dropped as if from a torn seed packet.

    Finally one afternoon his taxi pulled up.
    When he rang the bell, no one answered.
    He walked into the house, with its strangely
    solid silence, and called,
    "Mom . . . Dad . . ."
    How odd, he thought, as he unpacked
    their last secrets from his bags.
    Had he just imagined them?


    Evening pulls up in a Cadillac
    then walks up my steps. It means business.
    I lower the blinds and a name's left
    unfinished on frightened lips.
    Lights go on. A siren's crying far off.
    The neighbor comes home and fumbles with his key,
    doesn't notice what's pushing
    its fingers between the bricks.
    His wife opens the door. "Get in here, you damn drunk."

    I walk into the bedroom and you
    are lying there naked. Angry voices move from
    the wall into our room. "I love you!
    I love you!" he screams.
    Desire reclines slowly across your lips,
    throwing its head back. Around the weak light
    flow the lines of your body.
    There's the sound of glass breaking.
    You watch me let my clothes fall to the floor.
    Behind you the black sky swings in the
    wind as it hangs from the window.
    I feel your body closing around me.
    Our tongues press together and lock us in.

    When the suddenly cold air lies still
    on our skin, we pull the sheet over us.
    "You wanna throw me out! So I'm going!"
    he shouts. "I'm going, you bitch!"
    The door slams.
    We listen to our bodies breathing.
    Soon we can hear the TV on next door,
    like the sobbing of a broken woman.
    And outside they are waiting for us,
    their hands reaching into their coats.
    I picture us lined up against the garden wall,
    when at the final moment a man inside me will
    scream at them, "I love you! I love you!"


    I want you there when I have to
    walk through the valley of the shadow of success
    dragging the hills with me. You're the only one
    who understands the failure in those peaks.
    After I reach town and slip into
    the store where dreams shop and find
    that the black and white has followed me
    through the brightly colored streets, through the door,
    settled itself in the bill I can't pay, I want you beside me.
    You're the only one who can forgive me for that place.
    Somberly in and out of the window displays through rhythms
    of ambition and credit the naked melody will pick its way, flashing
    solid silver flutes for the cash registers,
    slipping a few poignant notes to the housewives whose low-cut
    imaginations swell with its cleavage.
    We would add see-through lyrics to it, have a good laugh.

    Then think of walking by the piers as sundown
    approaches with all its desperate bargains:
    The boats are ready to set off into the discounted day,
    so everyone's on deck drinking their promises from the bottle.
    In their floodlit talk they examine the places
    where I'll make you cry. But stay with me.
    The way leads past the unused farewells
    left on the oily planks, past the loneliness not lit
    in the signal towers onshore, the plans gone dark.
    There on the dock we'll hold each other and the beckoning
    water will come loose and drift out into the middle
    of our bodies with no hope of rescue.

Copyright (c) 1992 by Robert Kendall