Mona Van Duyn

                                    The Block

Childless, we bought the big brick house on the block,
just in case. We walked the dog. Mornings the women
looked up from their clippings and pruning and weeding
to greet us, at dusk the men stopped their mowing to chat.
The children were newly married or off to college,
and dogs they had left behind them barked from backyards
at our dog, first in warning, later in greeting.
On other blocks we walked in the zany blare
of adolescent records and stepped around skates
and tricycles left on the sidewalk, but our middle-aged block,
busy and quiet, settled us into its solace.

The years bloomed by. The old dogs were put to sleep.
We bought a scoop to walk our new pup on his leash
as the block turned newly cranky about its curbs.
A lucky few dragged a staggering grandchild on visit
up and down, shyly accepting praise.
the wife on the corner shovelled their snow. "They say
it's what kills the men. I won't take a chance with my husband."
Then bad news began to come, hushed voices passed it
across back fences, the job of collecting for plants
found its permanent volunteer on the block. Later
more flowers, and one left alone in some of the houses.
Salads and cakes and roasts criss-crossed the street.

Then the long, warm, secret descent began
and we slid along with it. "We need a last dog," I said,
"but I can't face it." My husband became the husband
of the widows on either side in his husbandly tasks
of lifting and drilling for pictures and fixing faucets,
and a kindly old handyman took over, house by house,
the outdoor chores of mowing and small repairs.
"What would we do without Andrew?" everyone said.
The graying children came oftener, checking on things.
One widower wanted to marry the widow next door,
but ""I'm through with that business!" she told him. The lone lesbian
kept up her house, but nearly wrinkled away.
I turned my flower borders into beds of groundcover.

The end came before we knew it. All in one year
my husband retired and half of the houses emptied.
Cancer ate four, heart attacks toppled some others,
a nursinghome closed over one, the rest caned off
to apartments with elevators. For Sale signs loomed
like paper tombstones on the weedy lawns.
The gentle years turned vicious all of a sudden.
"I can't believe it," we said. "The block's gone.
No one buys houses now." Those of us left
drew close, exchanged keys "in case something happens."
The wealthy patriarch sat all day on his porch
across the street and watched the distant disaster.
"He's way in his nineties," our busybody reported.
"His day and night nurses keep leaving, he's so awful.
And he won't take his pills. He just says, 'What does it matter?'"

We left on a long vacation. Home to the block,
we saw For Sale signs gone, heard new dog voices.
Bedding plants sucked up color from the old soil.
"The block is filled with young families. Everything's changed,"
we heard right away. A flyer stuck in the door:
"Block Party Sunday. Street Blocked Off All Day.
Bring Something to Share. All Bikes and Trikes Are Welcome."
"Oh Lord, do we have to go to all that bedlam?"
my husband said. "Oh God, I think they eat
hot dogs or something like that," I said. Too late,
Time, in its merciless blindness, gave us children.

Mona Van Duyn, Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.