The Little Yellow House
I was hellbent to give away
bushels of apples from our abundant trees
I bagged a couple dozen,
insisted he take them home
our neighbor loved his summer retreat
a faded yellow cottage next to ours
flanked by tall rhododendron bushes
that pushed against his windows
raccoons destroyed the two plastic compost bins
stripped away its sliding doors
scrub pine and oaks encroached on the patio
a spruce tree blocked the front door
To mark summer’s arrival
he dragged the picnic table from the cellar
hung the multicolored hammock
His ashes were scattered in the garden
his first wife had planted and tended
where her ashes were sown fifteen years before
smooth rocks that edged the garden had sunk in
only a few perennials remained—rugosa,
day lilies—overwhelmed by mugwort and grass
While we were at the beach
or walking the white cedar swamp
before he packed up his last summer
he wedged a note in our front door frame
Thanks for the apples,
Sad to see the summer go.
You hadn’t let me touch your head like that
since you were in kindergarten.
That first year of shutdown, you at last grew tired
of trimming your hair with the electric razor.
We spread an old sheet on the floor,
you held a towel around your shoulders.
The afternoon light was perfect.
I held the dark locks, snipped off the ends.
I loved the feel of your hair, the sound of the scissors,
the cuttings dropping onto the sheet.
When you got home, you thanked me in a text
but I was the one who owed you thanks.
You who sometimes kept yourself so much apart
had let me get close again, if only for an hour.
Cooking for One, in Winter
Black asphalt lined with melting snow
two cars, hers in the garage
idle for months now—
a reliable machine, good on winter roads
a reminder of something
you’d rather not think about
closets need going through
crammed with scarves, handknit socks
sensible shoes, sweaters with small holes at the elbows
she refused to throw them away
said they still had some wear left.
Saturdays you tune the radio to her station
lean forward hoping for Leonard Cohen’s rasp.
Evenings, Iggy Pop, Bowie sing
as you stir the risotto
tracing circles in the pot
When He Walked Off the Ship, 1945
She hardly recognized him, gaunt, muscles atrophied,
broken front teeth, a small gash in his forehead.
He wore his Navy whites, his hat cocked,
his hair in tufts under the Dixie Cup.
He was thirty-four, looked sixty.
She waited at the dock breathing deep to keep herself calm,
repeated his name to herself like a response
she might have made in church, a mumbled Amen or
Pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Her eyes followed him as he walked down the gangplank.
Once he was ashore, she threw her arms around him
trying to pick up where they had left off
before he enlisted and was on his way
to Pensacola, Calcutta, Chengdu, Mongolia—
dots on the Mercator projection map she pinned up
for her seventh-grade geography class.
His cover was aerographer’s mate, first class,
his outfit worked for Chiang-Kai Shek’s secret police,
months of tracking the weather from
the outpost in Happy Valley, Inner Mongolia.
There was never enough to eat
nothing like the American fare he was used to.
On the road with the Chinese guerillas
the Yanks carried their food
in necklaces of canvas sacks filled with rice.
Disease, infection, malaria, cholera—he wrote her
nine hundred days of letters, whole swaths of words
blacked out by military censors, never told her
the whole truth of what he saw and did, preferred
more cheerful subjects: the Chinese general’s operas,
a Christmas party the sailors gave for the children,
an impromptu fête when a case of Old Forester arrived.
All the letters she stashed in the attic.
© Lynne Viti
Lynne Viti’s poetry appears in Welcome to the Neighborhood, You Can Hear the Ocean and A Lovely Place, A Fighting Place, A Charmer: Baltimore Anthology (forthcoming). She is the author of Dancing at Lake Montebello: Poems (Apprentice House Press 2020) and two poetry chapbooks, Baltimore Girls (2017) and The Glamorganshire Bible (2018) from Finishing Line Press. Her second full-length collection, The Walk to Cefalù, is forthcoming in Fall 2022 from Cornerstone Press/Portage Poetry Series of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. A lecturer emerita at Wellesley College, she teaches in community programs and leads poetry workshops in the Boston area.