Writer and poet Brian Doyle gives voice to one of the strange, often unspoken facets of modern suburban life.

Poem for the Neighbor I Hardly Knew

houses-1719055

Image credit: Prawny

Whose name, I am almost totally sure, was Holly.
But I am not absolutely totally sure, which is nuts.
She and her husband lived one street down our hill.
They lived probably a couple hundred yards away,
For twenty years, but she was the sort of neighbor
I would wave to uncertainly, thinking that she was
A neighbor, right? and I should acknowledge that?
But I was never sure. It’s like you have first circles
Of neighbors, the ones you see every day, the ones
You say hey to and use their names and natter with,
And then there are neighbors you know by face but
Not name, and those you gesture to on the principle
That if they are emerging from a nearby house they
Are surely neighbors, and those who say hey to you
In the grocery store and you have that instant of not
Having the slightest idea before you go to default hi
And assume him to be a neighbor you met somehow
Somewhere. Why do we not know all our neighbors
For twenty streets around? Why is that? Why can we
Go for twenty years not knowing the slightest human
Thing about a woman who lived one street downhill?
I think she was a sculptor. She and her husband came
To our door when they first moved onto Maple Street
To ask us to sign an infinitesimal zoning variance, so
They could build a little studio for her sculpting work,
I think. But I don’t know, and this morning I feel like
A fool, a dolt, a selfish man, a rude man. She recently
Died, I heard. My wife told me this the other day, and
Since then I have been wondering how in God’s name
I could know so little about a soul who lived one street
Down the hill. We know so much about so little and so
Little about so much. Good thing poems can be prayers.

Brian Doyle

Poet and writer Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine, has contributed to Platform and Eureka Street, and is the author of many fiction and non-fiction works, including Thirsty for the Joy.