To my parents on their anniversary

THE MIDDLE YEARS by Walter McDonald


These are the nights we dreamed of,

snow drifting over a cabin roof

in the mountains, enough stacked wood

and meat to last a week, alone at last


in a rented A-frame, isolated,

without power, high in San Juan.

Our children are safe as they’ll ever be

seeking their fortune in cities,


our desk and calendar clear, our debts

paid until summer. The smoke of pinon

seeps back inside under almost invisible

cracks, the better to smell it. All day


we take turns holding hands and counting

the years we never believed we’d make it—

the hours of skinned knees and pleading,

diapers and teenage rage and fever


in the middle of the night, and parents

dying, and Saigon, the endless guilt

of surviving. Nights, we lie touching

for hours and listen, the silent woods


so close we can hear owls diving.

These woods are not our woods,

though we hold a key to dead pine planks

laid side by side, shiplap like a dream


that lasts, a double bed that fits us

after all these years, a blunt

front-feeding stove that gives back

temporary heat for all the logs we own.

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