Did the Pleiades convene,
heads covered, arms linked
seventy-three seconds after liftoff
on that freezing January Monday
when the O-rings fried like onions
at Cape Canaveral?
Did the seven sisters mourn in their living room
the seven hunched in the cockpit's
two minute and forty-five second freefall
back to earth?
Their fall lasted twice as long as their flight.
Seven icicles hang from the booster rockets,
sharp enough to slice arms, shattering
bay windows overlooking the Banana River,
leaving only bald orchids, their seven petals
falling on ash and snow.
The Y in the pluming acacia tree
carried the charred mourning doves,
the astronauts huddled
in their last moments.
Judy keyed Bach's Requiem on her baby grand,
and Christa wondered if he would remarry another.
Dick twisted his cold knuckles
around his grandfather's wood stove
while Ron saw the mouth of the Annan River
consuming him like an eel. Greg wasn't
with them anymore.
No one wanted
to be named after a crater on Venus.
During the long search, the recovery team
found only six,
losing the blue astronaut suit as quickly
as they found him.
The Pleiades prayed,
for the divers to see
a scallop boat gathering
the last one home.
He wanted to do it himself
because that's what real men do.
In a year or eighteen months, my father sees
a white-walled workroom
sanctuary, a full bath
with a pedestal sink.
My parents said a finished basement
adds re-sale value;
a home for the future, not the present.
In just a few months I'll squish
the indoor/outdoor beige carpeting,
hang Art Deco posters and beaded curtains,
plump cushions and arrange music;
I'm all ready for parties and limbo contests.
My mother left Dad alone in the basement, never asked
how it was going. But she knew
he hadn't finished his master's degree
he hadn't finished his naval career,
he hadn't finished the last house's basement,
still he knew how to finish a beer.
Contractors worked for a day or three, nothing
Dad could do all the work himself.
But not on weeknights and weekends-
you don't use vacation time to do manual labor.
That fall my father took a day off,
toenailed the studs and secured frames
with 8-penny nails. Tapping the nail twice,
waiting for it to bite into the soft wood
where he made sure nothing
I rode my bike heading nowhere in particular,
sometimes his reluctant sidekick
when choosing the perfect 2x4s with him at Hechinger's.
Cool in the summer, cold in the winter,
I learned how to crisscross and jump double-time
claiming my own swath of space in unfinished
limbo land; my eyes wandered
to the nails, washers, drills, hammers
and sawhorses awaiting their master.
I heard a few creaks from upstairs,
Mom yelled at Dad
through the kitchen vents,
Why isn't it done? her usual fire starter.
The neighbor two doors down has a finished basement,
why can't you?
Because I can do it cheaper myself, he countered.
On the same day my father
finished the basement,
he retired to South Carolina
My hands scarred below the knuckles,
thumb nails split,
yellow like old caulk at the nailbed.
A thin circle on the left hand,
tanned reminder of a tossed commitment.
I build a carport in suburban D.C.
for a one car, four-person family
where the summers suck vacuumed humidity
and the winters ice glass roads.
Now to measure, splice the wood,
and sand the planks.
My tool belt slaps against my hip
as I wrestle fickle nails with torn flesh.
My body is a '78 Chevy El Camino,
pewter blue, silver rails along the bed,
creaky on turns with shitty acceleration on entry ramps.
I wonder myself how I smoke and work,
but I have strong teeth and don't need an ashtray.
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