Once, a man I wouldn’t decipher
gave me his dead son’s shirt
and his dead son’s rice-cooker.
“You have to clean its steam-trap,”
he said, jabbing the cooker’s back
with one finger. Snapped in there
a little clear plastic box waited
to catch hot mist and boiled-up bran,
squaring them in its confines.
“If you don’t clean it,” he said,
and trailed off, shaking
with anger at his son
who’d taken an open-top Jeep
and an unapproved girl
to the beach, that summer:
swerved into a Jersey barrier,
rolled, and perished age 27
on a northbound highway lane.
The girl survived, changed.
There were lawyers, funeral costs,
And, once, a son
who hadn’t fucking cleaned the steam-trap
until some obscure disaster
paternally recalled, now
never to be fully articulated
but I took the warning
and the cooker and the shirt.
The first I keep, still;
the cooker is broken;
the blue shirt I buried
with its dryer-sheet smell,
its short sleeves pinned tightly
to show off his biceps.
Catherine Rockwood lives in Massachusetts, where she writes poetry and scholarship and book reviews, and is helping to raise (suddenly) a passel of children. Her poems have appeared in Antiphon, Orbis, Upstart, and Literary Imagination, among other places.