My back porch looks out on an alley
into which a neighbor’s consumptive sump pump
coughs violently and sporadically at all hours.
Sometimes I pretend the alley’s leaves and litter
stand in for Pharoah’s army, rendering the effluence
a dramatic player in a Biblical tableau.
Sometimes I fancy the flow some misguided New Age appropriation,
a feng shui fountain—and at the north end of my home, no less—curative
imbuing elemental prosperity, blessing my “career and life path area.”
Sometimes taking the trash out in the dark quiet of a Monday night,
I screech and leap at the sudden gush, my reflexes puppeteering me,
B-movie heroine to the drain pipe’s poltergeist.
I seethe a little as I nod a greeting to my neighbor
on the rare occasions when he shuffles past, stepping
over his brown-green scum stream as he exits my scene stage left.
We engaged in the perfunctory name exchange when I moved in
years ago, but in disuse, those hinges between us rusted shut.
Mr. Whomever—I can’t remember. Perhaps I should consider
my stage left as his stage right, and in his theatre, the conflict is
my music, my laughter, my little dog’s loud demands, my penchant
for pantslessness and open windows on warm nights.
Can I call this a watershed and thus trace thoughts and follow
feelings sourceward? Try to imagine his basement,
how wet it must be to warrant such round-the-clock diligence.
Try to imagine our whole block is one leaky boat
and he’s the only one bailing, not standoffish
as he seems, but just immersed
in the thankless necessary work, only emerging on occasion
to take the air and remind himself that we’re worth saving,
though he’s the only one who seems to see the sea.
Dora Malech is the author of Say So (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011) and Shore Ordered Ocean (Waywiser Press, 2009). Her poems appear in publications that include The New Yorker, Poetry, Tin House, and The Best American Poetry 2015 (Simon & Schuster, 2015). She has been the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and a Writers’ Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Center, and she has served as Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a co-founder and former director of the arts engagement organization the Iowa Youth Writing Project. She is an assistant professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where she recently received the 2016 Crenson-Hertz Award for Community Based Learning and Participatory Research. In 2017, she will be in residence at The Amy Clampitt House.