Rob Cook :: Tenements

The tea water rages on the stove.

Five people crushed
in a stove-sized apartment.

Who left only a drop of milk?

Who clogged the bathtub?

Who hid my share of the month…?

They come to blows
when they can’t find the water.

What will we do
now that the water has boiled away
like the days have boiled away?

The food killed on television
causes a distance between them.

They hit each other with words taken from the gossip downstairs.

The cash I paid you was clean.

Give me back the sleep you borrowed.

Quit chattering like those books full of chattering.

Then the window—or
the brick silk protecting the window—
loses its bearings
and the hitting stops.

Feed the phone when it chimes
the way a church chimes, the oldest says,
too filled with his own beds to count
the remaining inches of what’s been said.

The cats sleep like stains on the rug.

Every night, instead of eating,
the tenants take turns shutting off the light.

And at its edges,
where the stains sometimes purr,
the rug shows its ribs as well.