“You need, as a historian, essential triangulation from your subject and the only way you get that triangulation is through time.”

—Ken Burns


1. The Rustling


I’m convinced that what I heard that morning was sighing trees, a chorus of sighing trees. They weren’t very loud, not unlike a whisper. Did anyone else hear them? I wondered if they also thought something significant was happening, as if a response to something or a call for help or disappointment. INJUSTICES! There are those so devastated that they, at best, can only think locally or about themselves. Does this resonate with you? I suppose that this best describes me, and I wish to remain anonymous. I was in the shower, standing still as warm water ran over me, when I heard the trees sigh.


2. The Leaves


David Bowie died today. This is such a dark time of the year. I went to the Brazilian café for some vitamin D, and song after song about heartbreak. If one can’t look forward, one tends to look back. I had distanced myself in order to acquire some semblance of separation. EXCEPT FROM ME, OF COURSE. Now that there’s space for me, it’s as if I don’t know how to include others. When I called my mother last night there was a bad connection. She kept saying, “I can’t hear you,” and somehow I was reminded of what the woman on the up-escalator said when I was going down into the subway, “Fly-Fly-Shoot-Shoot-Dead-Serious.” WELL THAT’S DRAMATIC. What’s the correlation? The heating element in my oven no longer works and the drainage pipe under the kitchen sink is leaking and I can’t envision the future. Where am I to go? BRAZIL!   




I hadn’t been able to find her, but last remembered us talking in her mother’s immaculate house. NO MENTION OF A FATHER. Now, after half my life, I find out that she passed soon after I last saw her. Perhaps she couldn’t move forward with ease? NO MENTION OF YOUR HEROINE USING HEROIN AND USING SEX IN THE OBITUARIES. She was only kind to us, so stop with the judgment. Yet again we arrive here. I finally decided to buy curtain rods, mounted them, and hung curtains over the venetian blinds. I can no longer remember her face.


3.  The Roots


I can’t tolerate triangulation. As you know the poplar trees on X Street, or rather their roots, over time have lifted and split the concrete in places, thus making the sidewalk uneven. It is my understanding that a petition to unearth the sidewalk and the trees is circulating. My response to this situation is unpopular with the majority. I will write to the city council, ask them to consider only removing the concrete and not to replace the sidewalk for the sake of the existing trees. FURTHERMORE, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE TREES. Perhaps the street itself isn’t needed at all?    


4.  The Rings


My bad. I let you inside my head. THANK YOU FOR CLOSING AND LOCKING THE DOOR BEHIND ME. What was I thinking? You anticipate things before they happen and this makes me anxious. You two go way back. Last night you dreamt that I was carrying my father on my back. You didn’t help out, enjoyed being a spectator. You must have known that this was difficult for me. Karl, do you feel better about yourself when you watch others struggle? IRRELEVANT, I DON’T NEED ANYONE. These thoughts I carry. I can’t escape your thoughts. You inherited this way of thinking from your father, but are these his thoughts? There was a time when I liked questions, but for too long the answers remained the same.  




I’m becoming more and more aware that I’m losing my memory. And what have I accomplished? October is nearly over. I say, “repopulate” aloud when I pour more hot water into a diminished cup of green tea. Mornings have become a continuum of fatigue. YOU SLEEP TOO MUCH. Why must you constantly chime in? I don’t have time for this. IN OTHER WORDS, NO TIME FOR ME. Listen, I’m running late and I can’t find my keys. Look in the trousers you wore yesterday. Ah, yes. Thank you.


5. The Limbs


I don’t want to hear this fucking bad music. YOU SOUND LIKE YOUR FATHER. What’s wrong now? I’m trying to write a letter to the city. ANOTHER LETTER? And this white SUV’s double-parked outside. If it isn’t the music, it’s loud voices. ME? And now a blocked-in car is honking. YOU? So why do you stay here if you’re so sensitive to sound? HE’S SENSITIVE TO EVERYTHING. EVERYONE. Why do you live alone? Listen, I’m going to a café to write, the café with the revolving baristas who also can’t afford to live here. I HEAR PROVIDENCE HAS A NICE DRAW.  


Do you consider yourself an intellectual? NO WONDER YOU NEED EYE GLASSES. How does living here relate to your antagonistic relationship with men? JUST ANOTHER MIDDLE-AGED QUEER DESPERATE FOR ATTENTION FROM MEN. Must you? What happened to you? My father has limitations and all the ways I yearned for love.


Not a single table open. Why do you suppose…?  Look, look inside. All these students having expensive conversations in skinny jeans. ENVIOUS? They may look like college students, but you actually don’t know. Is it possible that you were self-absorbed at this age? I suppose somewhat clueless, yes, but I don’t believe that I was completely oblivious to others. REALLY? YOU OFTEN DISMISS OR IGNORE ME.




How many times must I tell the kids downstairs to shut and lock the door? RHETORICAL QUESTIONS, YOUR SPECIALTY. We live beside a liquor store for Christ’s sake! Does caution have a place in your relationships? I had a healthy dating life, until relocating here. This city’s a playground for these kids, purgatory for anyone single over 30. YOU’RE 50. Yet you continue to stay. I’ve learned some things here, an attitude, that’s not transferrable. Do you feel isolated? HE’S GOT ME. No, there are some wonderful people here. But do you feel isolated? But they are married and some of them have children.       



Listen! I was on the subway. YOU MEAN THE “T.” I watched a young man glance at his stitches, the succession of x’s between thumb and hand, as he was texting. The screen on his smartphone broken in several places, a web of fissures. He then called a friend, “Wanna go wild tonight?” You admired him. Yes, my life is so controlled, so safe. HE SEEMS RECKLESS. What else did you notice? He looked Taurean, had a boxy skull. Desire is three-pronged! No, he’s too young, probably in his mid-twenties. Love hasn’t happened for you since that age. ‘CAUSE THE MAMA’S BOY GOT HURT. My mom and I are like siblings. My father would rage, so we bonded out of necessity. And you’ve become a surrogate husband for her. CORREGATED IS MORE LIKE IT.  Shut up! I’m going for a walk.

Another tree’s been taken down—I must write to the City Arborist. ANOTHER LETTER? You rarely mention your childhood. If you wrote a letter to yourself as a child, what would you write? What do you remember?  The narrow bed. The electric blue bedspread that clashed with the turquoise curtains. The hanging spider plant we overwatered. IT PISSED ON THE WOODEN FLOOR and it swayed in the drafty windows. Oh, and the grate embedded in the floor that looked down on the living room AND THE ORANGE FURNITURE SET. We often overhead the first floor arguments, so we transcribed entries about animals from the encyclopedia set. And on Sunday mornings listened to American Top 40, but we didn’t like it when Casey Kasem digressed. THOSE STUPID SENTIMENTAL DEDICATIONS. And on blustery days those steep stairs sighed. Remember, Karl?



Kevin McLellan is the author of Ornitheology (The Word Works, forthcoming 2018), Hemispheres (Fact-Simile Editions, forthcoming 2018), [box] (Letter [r] Press, 2016), Tributary (Barrow Street, 2015), and Round Trip (Seven Kitchens, 2010), and his poems appear in numerous literary journals. Kevin lives in Cambridge Massachusetts.