A Common History of Avoidance
Allison Alsup

Two doors down, but never a neighbor
the token hoodlum of our landscaped street
cracks a lighter to a cigarette
the starting mark of his walk to the avenue.
One mile there, another back, timed
to arrive before the noon hour rush.

I have seen him, on my way elsewhere
to buy imported coffee, to pick up shirts.
He sits alone in a delicatessen,
his stare dull, uncommitted
like someone who watches the afternoon sky
for clarity or signs of rain
knowing he will stay in either way.

There is a wedge larger than the house in between.
From childhood, estrangement by rumor:
the brother, a girl, and the police.
Mothers pulled their ponytailed daughters aside
to talk about good touching, bad touching.
and the garage at the bottom of their sloping driveway
became a thing for summer night dares.

He used to spend his days lying next to a motorcycle
that he bulleted down the pavement at night.
Then he crashed and proved right
the fathers who'd shaken their heads.
The age of employment came and passed.
We younger kids packed trunks for college.
This Joseph stayed, or was that the brother?

Still playing the bad teenager, he smokes too much.
I think, his lungs must be dried like pasta shells
so when he goes,
there will only be a little snap
and he can be swept away
as easily as the leaves in the gutter
his mother sweeps in her slippers.

But if strides could erase culpability,
this sidewalk would be his grace.
Zippered, hooded, insulated against
the excruciating pleasantness of a good neighborhood,
he starts for home. His staccato limp hits the concrete
like a metronome ticking off wasted chances.
He is foolish for walking in such weather.

And if I pulled to the curb and offered,
he would only have to decline;
my sedan too narrow to contain
this long history of avoidance,
and so wheels slick with wet keep their silent spin;
no snags, no lulls, no whisper, next time.

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-Allison Alsup