Two Poems by Lee Chilcote


I. Underwater

Our monthly statement arrives
in a crisp white envelope,
silent about the crowd it runs with –
a shady set of B and C loans.

The Loan Overview says nothing
about the interest-only, no-money-down loans
next door
with their fast cars and bad teeth.

Down the street, the ‘For Sale’ signs fade
and leaves blanket the grass.
Kids on bikes zip past zombie houses
Scrawled with NO COPPER and stripped of gutters.

This is what happens to a 30-year fixed loan
bobbing in a sea of junk.

When the water rises,
it swallows the legs of our porches.
We wade in to rescue the dog
as the kitchen floods.

II. Slow Fuse

At night, fire trucks scream down Lorain
but the building goes up too fast.
All that’s left
is a sign that says ‘Arson is a Crime.’

The neon sign at Steve’s Lunch flickers.
A driver pulls off the highway,
stops at the light
and nods at a jittery teen in too-tight jeans.
She hops in and they drive away.

You can buy anything used here –
washers and dryers, baby clothes,
oak mantels, chandeliers.
The buildings of stout brick
have names and dates carved into
the façades like epitaphs.

III. Last Cut

I’ve come back for a few things
and to clean out my old garage.
I get stung on the wrist by a yellow jacket,
the mower’s grass-covered wheels
a perfect place to build a nest.

The house next door is vacant
and through a door that hangs open
I see a raincoat,

a pair of old sneakers,

doll face-down on the steps.


In Recovery

I hired Bruce to fix the cracks in my driveway, give it a new coat of blacktop, paint our deck. After I paid him $10 an hour in cash, he showed up a week or two later on his brown Mongoose mountain bike looking for more work.

Bruce was a handyman at St. Paul’s and helped out with the church’s homeless program. I know what these guys are going through because I’ve been there, he said. Got kicked out of everywhere, my sister’s, everyone had enough of my habit. Spent nine years on the street, got myself straight, thank Jesus.

I took him to a rental property to do some painting. I remember how his hands fluttered nervously between his knees as we took I-90 to Tremont, and he covered his big grin when he laughed.

My kids stared at his crooked teeth, but I told them it was OK and they played in the yard as Bruce and I talked. He played bass at St. Paul’s, liked to listen to his songs while he worked.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do – get my teeth fixed, Lee. Gonna save up, get a little house and rehab it myself.

When Bruce didn’t show up to paint the Tremont house, I called. His phone wasn’t working, he explained – had to put some minutes on it. A week later, he got a crew and went to work.

The night they finished, he showed up at my door wanting $210. The idling car, the urgency was weird, but I told him I didn’t have it on me and wanted to inspect the job first.

We went there the next day: paint on the floor, wobbly lines on the ceiling. I told him I’d pay when he cleaned it up and he and a friend from rehab took care of it quickly.

I called him about another job a few weeks later but they said he wasn’t at St. Paul’s anymore. He’d made some mistakes with the books, hooked up with old friends.

When he painted the Tremont house, the tethers of his old life must have been pulling him back. I hadn’t noticed, happy just to have his help.





Lee Chilcote is a poet, journalist and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Pacific Review, Great Lakes Review, Belt and other magazines. The poems “Foreclosures” and “In Recovery” are part of a series of pieces about living in the Rust Belt during the recession and its aftermath. He is also founder and director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side with his wife, Katherine, and three children.