Raccoons in the Attic
When I hear them thumping over loose planks
and gnawing at the wood in the kitchen soffits,
I think of that man and woman and their boy
who lived upstairs from us in Queens. We rarely saw them
face to face, but their steps in our ceiling belonged to the everyday
weather of home, like fish frying, or flies at the window.
Their shoes clapped back and forth on wood parquet like ours,
in a living room exactly like ours, the same late day sun
on the sill, the same view of playground, school and mall.
The father used to yell in swollen baritone waves
we assumed were Italian: as hard as I eavesdropped
I couldn’t have imagined what he wanted, any more
than I can think my way into the muscles
of sharp-toothed animals settling their bodies into pink insulation
on a frozen morning, nothing between us but sheetrock.
I say she stole it.
How else would a silverplate
teaspoon, stamped with the crest
of a world-famous five-star hotel,
turn up in the box
of plain flatware my grandmother
left in our crawl space?
She took a small apartment
in Miami Beach each winter,
for years. So it makes sense:
maybe she went to some banquet, Hadassah
or National Council, with prime rib
and green beans, a congressman giving the keynote.
She’d have worn a knit pants suit,
and diamond earrings
and sat with her best friend, Gussie.
And maybe towards nine, while her decaf
with non-dairy creamer grew cold,
and the chairwoman wrapped up her thank-yous,
what if the union seamstress who still drove
the needle through thick wool coats
some nights in my grandmother’s gut
hissed something sharp and short,
and what if she stretched her palm
to smooth the cloth by her plate,
and the first cool, lustrous thing it touched
fell into her handbag along with the usual
couple of packets of Sweet n’ Low?
Here are my gloves,
where they’ve been all along,
curled in my pockets
like small woodchucks.
See how August lopes
downhill toward the river,
the tune on her lips as sweet
and quick as a paper cut?
White mist lifts off
the blue and green float toys
dreaming on the surface
of the Carmans’ aboveground pool.