Tuesday evenings I can’t think of my baby
or the current between us,
more elemental than love,
switches my milk on,
wetting the shirt
under my buttoned blazer.
My job is to listen
as people unknot the past.
The guy who persistently flirts,
his smile sugar-white,
admits to road rage. Others
laugh in recognition,
their cars monsters too.
A young mother,
chandelier of dreads shaking,
mocks overheard endearments
like “Precious” and “Sweetie Pie,”
the same names I call my baby.
An older woman, beautiful
and resolutely friendless, agrees.
Affection shown children in public
sickens her. At home
kids are tied in the attic
or locked in a dog cage.
She knows this for sure.
Then Wilson speaks up,
says he feels good.
He’s taken his stove apart,
cleaned filth under and behind.
Wilson’s father dragged him from bed
to scrub for hours, sometimes his tongue
the rag. Or dragged him to the basement
to menace more than his tongue.
Empathy rises from Wilson
freely as other people sweat.
He and his wife cared for foster children
from the time their own sons were small.
Wilson kept the house clean,
took them to church, taught them the secret
of balancing a two-wheeler
(keep pedaling, that’s right),
but his sons became angry strangers.
Since the divorce they don’t speak to him at all.
He now knows,
through all those years of dinner together
and homework done neatly,
older boys carrying hurt too large to contain
tormented his children in their own beds.
Wilson, his hands raw from scrubbing,
smiles as he says softly,
The stove is spotless.
Everyone in the circle of folding chairs