Painting the House


This is the last time we will paint the house.

Up a ladder staring into sun
back bent back
hanging on to asphalt-shingled edges
in one hand a loaded brush drips grey
the other grips the apex of the peak
where two long rails come together in a seam
a place of lichen moss desiccated
wood and curling paint chips, a warm black-tar
breeze wafting up the roof-pitch blasts my face.
I feel the house breath, vent stale attic air
dry heat on my groin
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 parked cars the pastures beyond

I cling I daub I make no sudden moves
another spider parachutes by
swept from her crevice
covered with paint and doomed
I imagine falling to the concrete
my injuries
the ways I could land I would survive
the ways 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.
The clear images of my destruction help
keep my footing reach and breathing mindful
center of gravity unextended
balance held with an outward squeeze of calves
shins and sides of feet against the runners
firming my purchase. Our house

built of boards milled new in ’72
scraping gouges show just two coats since then.
We attack what little rot we find
so it may live to see many more hues
before the quake the fire and the flood
but not by us.

This death defiance is a suburban
testament to how much homeowners
love their partners
I guess I really would die for mine
I’d do the same things as a widower.
If never wed perhaps I’d have no home.
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 colors trim and eves
the wood preserved. Surely I would help

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 deeds and dedication
in this seventh decade but we dead 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.
We let the ache of bones give way to mirth.
There is no better way to see this task
begun before our time and never done;
Sisyphi who will 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.