Insulation Job, 1986

Michael Lauchlan

Between roof joists and ceiling, stuck--
between a clearing sky and a kitchen
where a man and a woman are shouting--
I can’t move my shoulder, can’t lift
my shins, which grate against timbers set
a hundred years ago. The hose pours
cellulose into voids beyond my flashlight. 
I’ve crawled to the low point of a roof’s
pitch with determination which fled
when I became so firmly lodged. 
Above, the insulation machine rumbles.
If I shout, my voice won’t reach
my partner, emptying bags into the hopper.
But what note of spectral desperation
would grace the tenants below? 
She’s shouting something stark
about a skinny woman. He speaks
clearly for a moment, maybe pointing
his face skyward so his words penetrate
the plaster as far as the pinched attic
and my useless ears. He confesses all.
Then nothing but the growling machine
and the silencing puff of wool. A curse
cuts through, a high pitched threat,
what sounds like a boy’s name
and a clotted reply. I grip
the ceiling joists and push straight back,
my shins barking. The air fills
with dust and grief. He starts again, 
trying to speak. Something savage
comes from a distance and he breaks off. 
Now only weeping rises into the dark. 
I’ve gained a grain of freedom while
the hose has buried half the attic.
I push again and turn my head, 
push and curl myself free,
pulling the hose behind. Moments
later I’m sliding through a spacious
three foot clearance on all fours, 
cursing my way to an access hole
we’ve cut in the flat roof.
I pop out into a river breeze
I can no longer smell and move
to the parapet. Light blazes off
windowed houses below, off cars, 
off the river, itself. “Lunch,” 
I say. Somewhere below
a man aches for breath
and a woman who’s spent both
voice and tears walks out
into a stairwell that smells as before, 
of garlic and sweat, but looks even
grayer, as though a faint dust
has shaken down from the ceiling
and coated everything she can see.


Michael Lauchlan’s poems have landed in many publications includingNew England ReviewVirginia Quarterly ReviewThe North American Review,The Dark Horse, Harpur Palate,Sugar House ReviewCanary,Barnstorm, Louisville Review, Southword, and Poetry Ireland. His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press.