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.