John A. Nieves, "Garage Door"




I never swept the dust from all the boxes

to peek into piles of papers and license plates

and old clothes. And now, when I open this

door, they will find some other dank spot. The shells

of beetles, dry rot, brown leaves under new leaves.

I wonder how much of home is what is stored


in dark corners. How much of what is stored

has anything left to say? The crumbling boxes

want me to ask them what it means to leave

with soft wet edges that can barely hold the plates,

the cups, in. Is there still sea in the conch shell

perched on the only tiny sill? The purple this


room presses into its shadows tells me this

is where the royal ghosts live—chiefs stored

in the dim who know this garage is the shell

of a sacred space, a ritual site: brother boxes

father by the fire. Their sweat-soaked hair plates

their backs. Their lips cracked so the chant leaves


askew singing memory lost not kept. What leaves

always turns inexact. I grab a marker hoping this

fading can be stopped with labels. Write plates

on the first box. But the specific dishes stored

inside fade into the idea of dishes. The boxes

into the faces of folks I’ve forgotten. The shells


of their names are almost-words. The shells

of their voices shimmer in the stains oil leaves

to remind us how many colors black has. Boxes

of crayons lie black into flatness, into this

waxy emptiness. My mother yelled if we stored

food in our cheeks, we could not pretend our plates


clean. But again, I fear swallowing. Dust plates

my throat, makes every sound distance or the shell

of distance. Some scrap of longing I’ve stored

in a notebook I lost to this room, the paper’s leaves

yellowed to powder. I want so badly to stop this

new migration. I want to command the boxes


to stay where boxes should be: in this

dampness, commemorative plates and ribbons stored

like mortar shells waiting to be fired, to leave.


John A. Nieves has published in journals such as Southern Review, Southern Humanities Review, Poetry NorthwestMinnesota Review, and Salamander. His first book, Curio (2014), won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award Judge’s Prize. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Salisbury University.