by this time

by this time
i should be
sitting on my porch swing
sipping coffee and chicory
in the apple crisp air
listening to Vidal’s Glorious Bird
go on about new york—
behind us the rambling, rotting
old house sighs and coughs and waits
one old man away from derelict forever
the Bird talks and talks
it irks him that he loses my attention
whenever some local passes on our
tiny, almost secret country road
it irks him how i check them out
every single time and wave—
why do you even care? he asks
he chides me for acting
like a stray dog that chases every bike and streetcar
you are so intent, he says,
what will you do if some given vehicle doesn’t meet
your expectations? what will you do
if the car, or the people inside the car, or its direction is wrong?
i’ll be aware, i say. i’ll be aware and that will be enough
you could never really understand
you’ve always been a city boy
but what will you do? he repeats
i don’t know, i say
the house sits up above the ground
as houses do down here
you can hear things moving among the tar cans
among the bits of wire and discarded pipe and children’s wagons
what lives under the house? he asks
whatever wants to, i reply
a car slows and a lady leans out the window
beside her on the front seat is a peacock
she hollers out, ya’ll seen a no-account
drummer come by here with my prosthetic leg?—
how ‘bout it, Bird? Seen any three legged men?
thousands, he answers, and holds out his cup and saucer
i rise and take them from him.
the woman shouts again,
thanks for nothing, you recondite bastard
she knows you, gloats Bird
forgive me my sin, i say
it is sunday and i should not work—
the woman drives off and i go inside
to get more coffee and chicory
for the Glorious Bird
because that’s how much i owe him
because that’s how it ought to be
by this time

—Don Whittington


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