Newton's First Law of Motion
Every body persists in its state of being
at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward,
except insofar as it is compelled to change
its state by force impressed.
Mom is cooling the brow
of Dad, supine on the couch,
with a facecloth she moistens
from a pan on the coffee table.
At regular intervals Dad belches,
symptomatic of the heart attack
that, after a respite, will end his life
just before dawn tomorrow.
A siren swells in volume then stops.
Enter Mrs. Ives in a nurse's uniform,
followed by two men who unfold a stretcher.
The volunteer ambulance corps has arrived.
Dad sits up; he is about to be sick.
Mrs. Ives, who is not a nurse,
springs into action: Believing it to be empty,
she seizes the handy saucepan
and sharply unbends her elbow
to lever the receptacle under
Dad's chin. Her control is perfect —
vessel stopping just shy of jaw — and
the force flings the water full
into Dad's empurpled face.
His expression does not change.
How It Looked
Because being alone in the house scared you,
each morning Mom would promise to be there
when you got home from school.
You made her swear on a Bible.
When she broke her word you got mad,
like the day Mom and Mrs. Pickett and I
pulled up from shopping in Torrington.
Those pre-seat-belt days allowed me to stand
in the back of Mrs. P.'s beige Beetle,
where my soles took the bounce
of the ruts frozen in our driveway.
From there I could see you out front
in that winter coat of green wool,
shoulders hunched and stick in hand.
Your lips swelled with accusation;
rage and tears ruddied your face.
Under dark brows, impassioned
for explanation, your eyes waited.
What a handsome boy you were
even in the silly hat with ear muffs
whose twin I was wearing.
Five years old, I could tell how you felt.
After all, being you had to be a lot
like being me, no? Same parents
same sister same town.
But no one gets to be somebody else,
it turns out. So only one of us
would tear the house apart a few years later
for failing to make a team, then retreat
from the world into an adolescence of terrors and fury.
You held Mom's attention then all right.
Just you and I survive
from that day, big brother,
when our family still lived
in the same place together.
The porch the bare trees the glassy sky —
It all looked normal enough.