Three Suburban Sonnets

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Ray Nayler

Three Suburban Sonnets



    The boy descends on plank and urethane,
    on curb-scraped maple deck, on battered shins
    from missed flip-tricks with now-forgotten names.
    Just as the light cools out behind the cypress
    trees, the TVs scumble glow across blue lawns
    of Cherry Avenue, Orchard and Live Oak streets
    (sodium-lit lanes denatured down to flat
    routine). The hollow shield twists lithe beneath
    his feet—battered guard against his high-school
    enemies, sane raft awash the bone-lapped suburb
    sea. Hard-asphalt breakers surf to a strip-mall
    beach (now cracked glass panes, carcassed leaves and signs
    FOR LEASE) where he heels tricks on parking blocks,
    repurposes blacktop fields with winging feet.


    We met every day to walk to school
    from one California drought September
    to a cool December still devoid of rain,
    when the death of your drunk mother took you out
    of the fragmentary sweep of memory:
    the smell of wrestling mats, the tetherball
    courts and tanbark splinters in our hands,
    the little hell of playground and the taste
    of sheared copper and cut grass in the mouth.
    What can I recall of those months now?
    The grossly drunken boyfriend on the couch
    the apehangers, the cat-piss reek and then
    you telling me “My mother’s dead” in gym.
    I like to think somewhere you are a man.


    Since none of us had parents in the way
    it seems one used to, we were raised
    by architecture and environment—
    glass doors that gave out on gray backyards
    and glistening snail tracks on cracked cement.
    Colors like eggshell, khaki, taupe.
    Shortcuts to strip malls through rows
    of quick-growing trees. Everything
    a fib—all “streets” just cul-de-sacs and courts.
    Community centers void of communities,
    but dumpsters full of fascinating things—
    sloughed-off skins of interiority,
    hints of hopes submerged and hidden sores.
    Like hearing a parent’s grief behind a door.