“Boiler” by Pia Aliperti

Pia Aliperti


The radiator clanked and banged all night,
clattering coins and glass boots.
The bedroom was still cold.

Sometime after 3 a.m. I fall back into bed,
read Vincent’s letters.
It is 1881, nine years before his death,

and he has just been rejected
by his pretty, widowed cousin (“Never, no, never!”).
His feelings for her have smoldered unspoken

and now he is white-hot. He writes his brother Theo
If I did not give vent to my feelings every so often,
I think the boiler would burst.

I call my brother whenever I walk
from Flatbush Avenue to my walk-up apartment.
We talk about his girlfriend who moved to Seattle,

his feral cat, the flocks of birds
falling to earth in tandem.
I am not naturally forthcoming. I wait

until I need to make an adjustment,
loosen a bracket, twist a knob counterclockwise
before I spill that I am miserable,

or defeated
or wildly optimistic: I am almost pleased
with my ‘never, no, never.’

Vincent saw in Kee Voss a woman who knew
grim days, and fear, and worry.
She already had a child. He glimpsed an interior

swashed in yellow, so he pounded on the door.
I imagine she was shocked
for “never, no, never” beats with intent.

The groundhog was not released last week;
there was no room for shadow.
But Vincent thought, if this is truly over,

Wouldn’t she say something worse
to me than ‘never’?
They are questioning me about my intentions

to turn on the light.
My appointments bore me.
I despise my punctuality.

Let the lights burn out. Let the laundry grow
larger. I will write about toothbrushes if I want to.
I check my e-mail once a day and wince.

This is not a yellow life.
I get very cross when people tell me that it is dangerous
to put out to sea.

Did you know when he wrote those words
he hadn’t yet sketched out The Potato Eaters;
where was his little ship then?

Eager as ever
my brother enters poker tournament after tournament
until the site kicks him off or he cashes

his next birthday check.
My brother is passionate about poker.
This man-child, my mother says

and she cuts off his tuition.
My brother asked me for money, only once.
A handshake in my thoughts! I told him,

which is also Vincent’s sign-off in letters to Theo.
He is always asking to be remembered.
They seem to forget that there is safety in the heart

of danger. I just want him to get to Arles
to the little yellow house,
where there is no shadow or shade,

to the woodcut room
where every thing points to rest.
Vincent tells his brother that he spends his days

fiddling with paints, thinking about paints
but still the ‘never’
riddle is by no means solved.

The door is now shaking
to the heavy drone of the radiator.
I’m sure the ceiling moved. I will not

call you. There is no home
in white-heat. Only yellow
in an open shutter.

It is not here yet, but it moves
like a season.
It walks like a soul.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Pia Aliperti: “Reading poetry makes me want to be wild and turn others wild with me. How can you read something like Gregory Orr’s ‘Love Poem’ or Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony and God and resist the urge to answer? I write because the goose-bumped, prickly pleasure I get from reading demands more strange music.” (website)

Rattle Logo