My father took the shortcut to cousin Ray’s funeral,
up the steep road to Port Vue past houses, staggered
like thumbtacks between the road and hillside.
Retaining walls prevented the front yards from spilling
out into the street during storms.
My father jerked his thumb, motioning out the window,
See that wall? Those square ends sticking out between
the long wooden beams there?
I looked, saw a Morse code of wooden dots and dashes
holding back the earth.
Those are dead men, he said. The builders lay them
perpendicular to the others, bury them like that
to stabilize the wall.
I responded with a distracted Oh, thinking
about dead men and stability, learning names for things
we don’t usually notice, let alone understand.
—from Rattle #20, Winter 2003