Reaching Through the Wall

Honorable Mention, JAMES BAKER HALL MEMORIAL PRIZE IN POETRY

By EDWARD LEROY BURCH

I dampen the wall and scrape off
a century of their daily backgrounds,
at first pleased to shroud a wake
in these arabesques,
festoon a wedding in those flowerets,
greet midwives, ministers and suitors,
with thin green stripes and yellowed squares.
But by the seventh layer I’m cursing
the paper’s lunatic tenacity
and the fickleness of old-home decorators.
When I finally tap bare wall,
it’s a dead crust of horsehair
and friable mud on lathwork
there is no saving.

Nothing left but to sink hammer and crowbar
through three rooms of their ten foot walls
three long sooty days
until I stand, arms aching,
in the ribs of an immolated whale.
Then shovel mud, hair and paper
into plastic bags, each the heft
of a fair-sized body.
Fire the pile of laths
in the bare spot out back.
Light a muggy August evening.
Stare and draw moths.

After hosing down the embers,
I shower smoke and grime from this body
and lay it down in white sheets.
Yet, as sleep hovers near,
the mind continues to beat and tear
at a wall it knows is gone.
And in the night I wake,
arms throbbing, hands numb, not there.
They are feeling their way
into that other darkness,
reaching for the hands
that once built walls.

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Edward LeRoy Burch earned a bachelor of arts from Bellarmine University and a master of arts in English from the University of Louisville. He has attempted to be a poet, singer/songwriter and visual artist for almost 40 years and hopes to continue trying quite a few more.


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