Lea Marshall

I watch this man shuffle up and down

the sidewalk, the silica glint of twenty-year-old

broken glass dusting his path. His round shoulders

pull his head down with them. Under lank hair,

lines skid along his cheeks, but his eyes brighten

in the sun. Sometimes a woman walks with him.

They do not speak of their bare room, but they walk

as though they hadnít left it—two chairs at a wooden table,

dust motes slowly spinning. One slanted afternoon

he stops at our small yard sale while she looks on,

her feet rooted it seems in silent, hopeless fury

while slowly he picks through a box of old batteries,

coins, tape measures. His crooked hands shake, pulling

a harmonica from the detritus of our life, like a magician.

I do not remember ever having seen it before.

He turns it over and over, gently, learning

its weight and color. He blows one low note

like the question, Why? The woman does not move

or turn her eyes away from him, but I can see

the sound bounce off her thin chest. Then he asks,

low, How much for the harp? I answer, fifty cents.

The wavering fingers search through his pockets

until two quarters appear. They walk off together,

their silence again inviolate. I canít hear the harmonica

echo in their room, but I see them sitting, she staring

across the table as he plays small tuneless sounds

until, I think, will she take her cup and throw it?

But next spring I will see them walking by again,

the man carrying a branch of blossoming pear

ahead of them like a banner. My own chest will hollow

at the sound of their footsteps and Iíll remember

listening to my motherís cough

as she sang me a lullaby she made up herself.

Lea Marshall is in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is also Producer for the Department of Dance & Choreography. She is a freelance dance writer, and administrator for Ground Zero Dance. She lives in Richmond with her husband and one-year-old daughter.

  fiction    poetry    "fact"    photography
masthead      guidelines