Poetry by Harrison Pyros
Two nights ago, there was a murder
five blocks over and since then
that’s all anyone is talking about.
The local news is ecstatic, lustful,
calling it a tragedy for the community,
extolling bios and profiles, interviews galore,
a bloodhound for ratings.
Through the grapevine of the macabre,
my mother gets the scoop, the theories, the whispers
from friends and coworkers who knew the couple.
A murder-suicide loosens the lips like liquor.
An affair was to blame, the camel’s back collapsed in,
a few liters of blood and the hardwood floors are ruined.
“There goes the property value,” my neighbor says.
My mother didn’t know the couple but Mia did.
She grabs her drink at Starbucks and tells me
both husband and wife were looking to put hits out
on the other. Mia finds this a sign of compatibility
if anything. “I wonder if they called the same guy.”
She pours cream into her coffee
and it spreads like an inflamed artery.
“Other than that, they were pretty boring.”
I think of the months leading up,
unsheathing the bread knife and studying
its grooves and then your partner’s neck.
The paranoia that comes after dusk,
the decision to buy the gun.
The house with the ruined hardwood floors
faces my old elementary school.
The couple was childless, unassuming, white bread types:
a pinnacle of young suburban conformity.
I looked at that house every time I smoked
cheap cigarettes in the parking lot with friends.
I’m looking at the house now through a haze
of smoke. The way the windows yawn in
the darkness despite being locked. The stillness
of the yellow police tape. The empty driveway.
The neighbor’s porch light turns off.
I imagine the popping of three gunshots
and the way it took three days to discover the bodies.
“We didn’t think anything of it,” the neighbor explained
to the ratings-hungry news. “They were so quiet, unassuming.”
The second week in August
ushered in a heatwave, an oppressive air;
triple-digit temperatures, sticky road tar, and
seven new Trump flags hanging in the neighborhood.
I discover them on an evening jog,
cheap polyester blends flaccid in the waning light.
I am shocked, not by their implication—
their color is appalling on this cookie-cutter street.
I come home and tell Mia, who responds
by standing up, suggesting retaliation, in a
narrative of passive aggressive lies and half-truths.
“Suburban counterinsurgency,” she grins at me,
opening a tattered notebook to start the first letter.
Mia transforms into a concerned, angry mother,
the unchallenged head of the PTA, hellbent
on speaking her mind (and to the manager),
“It’s so difficult to see hate in our community,” she pens
in a weeping scrawl, careful to always cross her cursive t’s.
After a bottle and a half of wine, our letters
reach a new level of fretting poignancy.
I am a businessman up the road ready to weaponize the HOA;
Mia is a registered nurse, ashamed to call them neighbors.
We sign our notes with “Concerned Citizen” and seal
each letter in a crisp white envelope for delivery.
By next morning, all seven houses had new mail to read,
brought about in an aura of giggles and strong Merlot.
Over the next week, I heard rumors through my parents:
A squabble with the HOA, hissing whispers between parents at school,
nothing concerning two teenagers with oddly-flowing penmanship
or the possibility that all the threats were empty at best.
It’s the end of August, during a midday jog
that I realize one of the seven flags had come down,
the woman on the porch catching my eye as I stop.
She stares at me, unblinking, in the sweltering suburban heat.
When my mother gossips,
she does so with theatrical flair.
She relays her information over a spread
of baked chicken and cooked cauliflower.
We are not a family that bothers to say grace.
My mother has never known a monotone,
she is reminiscent of a character on a network drama
when she spills news of affairs, backstabbing, drug use,
rumors of skimming from the PTA budget.
My mother has never been a part of the PTA.
She made noodles after work and twirls them
around her fork like a slippery ballerina.
Our neighbor up the street has caught her son
sneaking out of the house three times now.
My mother whispers like a spy when she tells us
our neighbor is going to follow him next time
just to see where he goes past curfew.
I rarely offer my own information—
the dinner table is my mother’s stage;
my cards stay hidden from sight.
I do not tell my mother that I know
our neighbor’s teenage son quite well.
Since our sophomore year, we meet past 11 p.m.
to have sex in the spacious trunk of his Subaru Outback.
Only once have we been privileged with a bed.
My mother does not know the role I play
in many of her favorite suburban dramas.
She muses about the house on Maple
with yellow yolks on its walls and windows
not knowing the eggs originated from a carton
in her own stainless-steel refrigerator.
She talks of drugs deals in the covered parking lot
of the Quality Inn Motel but has a customer
sitting at her dinner table, eating her noodles,
looking forward to past 11 p.m. tonight.
My mother cuts her chicken with hardly a sound,
a twinkle in her eye as her news report comes to an end;
she looks from my sister to my father and finally to me,
“But I’m sure you know much more than I do.”
The day after Mia’s birthday
the air conditioning broke
and sent us into an eddy,
suffering in stuffy heat.
Sweat beaded our foreheads
and forced us to strip layers,
desperate for a cross-breeze.
We waded to the refrigerator
to bask in its freon coolness
and raided the icebox for all its cubes
to slide them down the lengths of our backs.
Pleading calls deepened our anguish:
we would be stuck in this oppressive air,
with no maintenance until tomorrow.
We escaped to the backyard—
where the sun beat down with a vengeance
and the heat radiated like snakes—
to the green coil of the garden hose.
The day after Mia’s birthday was baptismal
as we drenched ourselves in the frigid water,
clothing clinging to our bodies, only stopping
to watch droplets sizzle on the pavement.