Painting the House

This is the last time we will paint the house.

Up on a ladder staring into the sun

back bent back

hanging on to the asphalt shingled

edge of the roof with one hand

extending the other with a brush

to the apex of the peak

where two long rails come together in a seam

this high place where lichen and moss

have begun to grow on the old paint.

There's a cooling breeze up here but mostly

I feel the dry heat of the house

breathing on me from the attic vent,

the sun on my neck, the sweat of my fear,

the ladder leaning slightly as I work.

I see children in the neighbor's yard

the street, the fields beyond.

I cling I daub I make no sudden moves.

Another spider parachutes by

swept from her crevice by my brush

covered with paint and doomed.

I imagine

plummeting to the concrete below,

my injuries,

the ways I could land I would survive,

the ways that I would not.

Wet fear washes over and covers me.

I will never paint this house again.

Now the primer coat is drying.

Twice more I'll climb the ladder to that peak

then easier jobs

Deborah to her prep and me to siding

but one more peak awaits me in the front.

Dread drips down upon me.

I accept the fact that I might die

painting our house. I see it in my mind

yet climb that ladder again and again

each time feeling my unluckiest fate.

Clear images of my destruction help

keep my footing reach and breathing mindful,

center of gravity unextended,

my grip on the roof, outward squeeze of calves,

shins, and sides of feet against the runners

firming my purchase.

Our house is made of wooden tree bodies

but built of boards newly milled in '72.

Scraping gouges show only two coats since

but we attack what little rot we find

it may live to see many more paintings

before the quake the fire and the flood

but not by me.

This death defiance is a modern

testament to how much homeowners

love their spouses—I guess

I really would die for mine—

but I know I'd be doing this same thing

as a widower, if never wed

perhaps I'd have no house to paint.

I know of two men who fell from ladders

doing house repair

one died on the spot from his injuries

his wife destroyed

the other is painfully disabled

now on opioids

yet up I go and go again until

our home's renewed with color, trim and eves,

the wood preserved.

Surely we would paint the house

again if we were younger—

not that my fears will get the best of me

that I will put my foot down and refuse

it's not that we will come into money

and no longer feel the need to save

by doing it ourselves—

it's that we will either be too feeble

or dead by the time it needs doing.

Some nights we feel almost there already

but now we're nearly done.

We prop each other in our waning strength

proud of our work in this seventh decade

but we ache

pride and the beauty of the finished job

do not smooth the stiffness, clear the bruises,

only serve to make them tolerable.

The life within upholds this roof, these walls

so we laugh

let the aching of bones give way to mirth

there is no better way to see this task

begun before our time and never done

two Sisyphi who never see the top

will never be rolled over by our rock

we will roll on its floor in drunken glee,

but we will never paint this house again.