Gutting the House

Seagulls on a landfill heap, ecology disaster

Gulls kettle in the steam
rising from what,
from meters up, must seem
like tea bags but

for the smell; seem themselves
sign of the Third
Coming, as their gyre delves,
bird after bird,

into the dump. We’ve come
to offload more
swamp-green linoleum
scraped from the floor

of my brother’s new house
(new in a sense,
for there were previous
owners, whose chintz

curtains and taste in flooring
suggest a life
both eccentric and boring).
My brother’s wife

stayed behind to begin
priming the walls
of dining room and den,
her overalls

flecked as if with bird poop . . .
Silly, that word.
It threw me for a loop
when I first heard

a doctor opt for it—
instead of “stool,”
“feces,” or even “shit”—
and keep his cool

explaining why our mother
would yet again
need chemo, how another
tumor had been

detected in “her pipes,”
and what her odds
now were. She’d come to grips,
she said, with God’s

plan, was dead within weeks.
Into the blue
compactor, whose breath reeks
and teeth can chew

metal like bubblegum,
we throw the last
strips of linoleum,
then turn back. Past

turfed-over hills of trash—
the tumuli
thriving under an ash-
gray, weathered sky—

extends a field of gulls,
hundreds or more
weighed down by bellyfuls
of apple core

and rot. The ones we shoo
refuse to budge,
simmering as we stew
and all but nudge

them off the gravel drive.
We wonder how
they manage to survive
on foods that grow

a downy coat as thick
and white as theirs,
when our mother got sicker
despite our prayers

and an all-natural diet
of mostly kale.
(“Don’t knock it till you try it!”)
Her death’s gone stale,

having been talked to death,
yet it’s hung over
this weekend like the wreath
we can’t quite ever

bring ourselves to take down,
the one that sheds
on her plot those crisp, brown
tears. Sheds and sheds.

Nicholas Pierce’s poems have appeared in Birmingham Poetry ReviewThe Hopkins Review, and Subtopics, among other journals. A resident of Salt Lake City, he’s pursuing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing Poetry at the University of Utah. His debut collection, In Transit, won the 2021 New Criterion Poetry Prize.