Poetry — March 7, 2017 11:52 — 5 Comments

The Attic – Matt Dennison

In his workshop my landlord tells me
about Poland during the war
and those who refused shelter,
who turned away as the trains
chuffed past night and day
and of the soldiers who searched
the carpentry shop he and his
younger brother had struggled
for years to establish—
how they slid like snakes
into everything they owned until
they discovered his best wood,
hidden in the attic under rags,
and how, laughing, they tossed
the boards into the snow,
thanked him as they loaded their truck
and then torched the building.
He set up another shop, without
his brother, and moved what tools
he could salvage into the basement
of another man’s house, erasing
his tracks the best he could
before daylight.

One morning he woke up early
and walked three miles to take an order
from one of the last farmers willing
to deal with a Jew. When he returned
every house was empty, everyone gone.
It was good luck for you, Isak, the farmer
told him when he delivered the table
made from old scraps of barn siding.
He shouldered the table once more,
pulling the leather straps hard,
to control his hands,
and walked back.

Four years later he saw an old woman
step onto a trolley. He followed,
riding behind her until he was sure,
then placed his hand on her shoulder
and spoke her name. She did not
turn around, only reached back
and touched his hand, thinking
he might not want her,

Hair black as night, arms that can
lift a five-foot board straight from his
body to sight its curve, he builds
all manner of bookcases and tables
now, from the finest woods available.
Beautiful work I cannot afford.
“Nothing is cheap,” he says,
waving away my claims of poverty.
“If you vant, you you vill vork.
If not …” he shrugs, smiling.

Shortly after I moved in
I happened to mention I heard
rats in the crawlspace above my ceiling.
I had some books and old clothes up there,
nothing valuable, I told him, but he would not
hear of it. He climbed his ladder and drove
them away with a vengeance that made me
smile behind his back—his voice claiming
victory, again and always, as below,
I began the lesson of work.


After a rather extended and varied second childhood in New Orleans, Matt Dennison’s work has appeared in Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael Dickes, Swoon, and Marie Craven.


  1. John Guzlowski says:

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  2. Matt Paust says:

    Beautiful, moving.

  3. Catherine Stack says:

    Really great work here.

  4. I read a poem in Stream-Concis called, Electricity, Yes. I was, if I may say, pleasantly surprised at such lovely words. I, a writer, and some call me a poet, have been struggling with the poetry world. I do not like much of the work today. It’s the style…what is being taught and pushed. That is okay, if you like those things. What I find most frustrating is the lack of real depth, symbolism, and story behind the words. Where is the beauty, I ask. Until I read your poem. Then I searched for more, each poem I read, reminding me of what a true poet sounds like! You write beautifully. Music and imagery are webbed intricately with each stance, each word. Brava! I will keep reading more and am happy to have found your poetry.

  5. Matt Dennison says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth.

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What am I?

Bioluminescent eye
That sees by the shine
Of its own light. Lies

Blind me. I am the seventh human sense
And my stepchild,

Scientists can't find me.

Januswise I make us men;
Was my image then—

Remind me:

The awful fall up off all fours
From the forest
To the hours…

Tick, Tock: Divine me.

-- Richard Kenney