It’s the fifth one he’s watched this month,
from the car, mouth dry from too much coffee.
‘Dollhouses’ they call them in the papers,
with their sides pulled off,
Exposing upstairs and down,
peeling wallpaper, chipped door-frames,
tired toilets and sinks.
He feels the indignity of it,
the unsought intimacy.
This one’s pretty crude –
the old boy’s working on the mortar with a screwdriver,
once he’s got six or seven loose they’ll
stick a pipe, decorated with chains, and pull.
The truck’s already running, waiting to snatch that whole wall out.
Even now, at grey sunrise,
with the light weak,
the bricks’ beauty whistles,
faded mottled orange and purple,
beige and black, mottled and cracked.
It’d been a mystery to him
These brickless, sagging jaw buildings.
At first he thought it was the weeds,
patient and insidious,
but then somebody told him that
the bricks went for $200 a pallet downtown.
He used to confront them,
but it was pointless, like chasing off pigeons,
their retreats were only tactical and
their need greater than his.
So now, he watches,
he watches and sometimes takes pictures,
as they carry off blocks,
pecked brick by brick, leaving
(at his last count)
one thousand and fifty vacant lots,
pockmarked concrete, crabgrass…
When he’s not watching, he dreams of a farm.
He’d dig up the lot over on Labadie
and plant it with collard greens, beets, sweet potato,
encourage the dandelions and nettles.
And the orchard!
Row after row of apple trees,
even spaced and smooth trunked,
their fruit heavy and sharp, red and green
against the brick backdrop of a new building,
made out of old brick,
where he’d farm catfish in big metal pools,
the water laced with dirt.