Marie Howe

Rochester, New York, July 1989

Early summer evenings, the city kids would ride their bikes down his street
No-handed, leaning back in their seats, and bump over the curb

Of the empty Red Cross parking lot next door where Joe’s car was parked, and
John’s white Honda, broken and unregistered … everything blooming,

that darkening in the trees before the sky goes dark: the sweetness of the lilacs
and the grass smell …

And the sound on the front porch steps was wooden and hollow,
and up the narrow stairway stuffy and dim, and the upper door maybe a little 

open – and into the hall and left into his room: someone might be sitting there
reading, or sometimes only him sleeping,

or lying awake, his face turned toward the door,
and he would raise his hand …

And the woman who lived below them played the piano. She was a teacher, and
Sometimes we’d hear that stumbling repetition people make when they’re

learning a new song, and sometimes she’d play alone – she’d left a note
in his mailbox saying she would softly for him.  And those evenings

when the sky was sunless but not yet dark, and the birdsong gre loud in the trees,
just after supper, when the kids wheeled by silently

or quietly talking from their bikes, when the daylilies closed up
alongside the house,

music would sometimes drift up through the floorboards,

and he might doze or wake a little or sleep,
and whoever was with him might lean back in the chair beside the bed

and not know it was Chopin,
but something soft and pretty – maybe not even hear it,

not really, until it stopped 
– the way you don’t know a scent from a flowering tree once you’ve passed it.