Encased, like bugs in amber,
the lilac buds are suspended
in glass cocoons;
hoarfrost spikes the sign posts
as the plows dump three feet
of packed powder
where our driveway meets the road;
spring snow is heart attack season,
or so my wife says, handing me my gloves;
it’s what got Gary last year, and Paul,
and my grandfather in back in ’94;
she stands, framed in the window,
our newborn daughter
suckling at her breast; she smiles
like a patron at the nickel slots
or virtual crap tables
knowing that each role of the bones
brings the machine closer to its payout;
she knows the numbers of the term life policy
we purchased through my work,
understands the details
of our supplemental plans, for death
and dismemberment; she knows,
and still she watches from the window,
her breath fogging the panes,
mouthing the words, as I plunge
my shovel into the heavy pack,
don’t die on me, now.
The red paint is peeling
from the hardwood planks of the deck out back;
while the acorns clack and clatter off the roof,
the gutters, and the second-hand patio furniture
we bought last spring.
My wife watches me pour the rest of last-year’s stain
from its five-gallon bucket into the paint pan,
muttering the words of my uncle
from thirty years ago—
Do it right.
He called it “painting season”
when he removed the swings from the A-frame
joking that “it could use a fresh coat”
while his wife slung rope
through the empty hooks, hanging
bound chickens by their feet.
He honed his blade against a leather strop,
teaching us to “do it right,”
and with a single motion, he set the bodies
to flail, hot blood spattering the posts of the swing set
as Jackson Pollock might have.
Loose heads dropped to the ground, eyes still blinking
each beak working impotently for a final cluck;
we swayed on the rehung swings,
before the blood even had time to dry,
watching the grownups boil, pluck, and gut
the food that would stuff our freezers that fall.
Do it right.
My wife’s voice pulls me back,
as I overpour, slopping the contents of the bucket
on the toe of my shoe;
I look up into the blush of the trees,
the russet orange of the oaks,
the red and yellow sugar maples in full fire.
With too little of the season left,
I shake myself back to the task
of dipping my brush and stroking the red
onto each plank, sealing the dead wood,
saving it from the woes
of one more winter.
Daniel Ruefman’s poetry and prose has appeared widely in periodicals. To date he has authored two collections of poetry and looks forward to the release of his memoir What the Fuzz? Survival Stories of a Minor League Mascot in 2022. He teaches writing at the University of Wisconsin – Stout.