Claire McQuerry

The Nature of Debt

I returned the TV today. I won’t
use it, now that you’ve gone back
to your other life. I thought
I might keep it—
but what would be the point?
I lived without one for so long
before you almost moved in.
The customer service guy
was nice about it, in his
oversized employee vest. He took
a knife from one pocket and opened
the box—just to know everything was
back inside: screen, cables, remote. That
was that. When I drove away from the store,
I thought I must have left my lungs
back at the register, or else all the air
had gone out of my car, so I rolled down
a window. Eventually I wound up
parked in my driveway, the tree there
dropping its fat, pollinated bombs.
What to do with your T-shirts, still
hanging on the line? The air, motionless
and lukewarm, felt like nothing
against my skin when I carried the groceries
inside, where there was no longer
a TV. “The credit will go back
on your card,” the kid had said
when I’d signed for the return.
A baby wailed in the cart behind me.
Sometimes I don’t know whether
I’m building something
or taking it apart. I had to ask him
to repeat that last sentence
about the credit. And then
I’d thought, well, maybe it’s all
just a rearranging of different
little empties anyway.

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Claire McQuerry's collection Lacemakers won the Crab Orchard First Book Prize, and her poems have been published in Tin House, Western Humanities Review, Fugue, Poetry Northwest and other journals. She is an Assistant Professor at Kutztown University.