Years From Now When You Are Weary
and worn out, wondering how you’ll pay
a bill or make the rent or meet a deadline
set by some thoughtless boss—and kid,
such days will come—remember yourself
at five: hair light from the sun or just from
being young, new lunchbox pasted
with butterflies, how you hung your backpack
on a hook, then wouldn’t let me take your picture
on the first day of school, sending me
out of that classroom, to the car, to my job
where a pair of bats flapped in the hallway.
Bats may be just bats, but one darted
into my office, quick as the boxer’s head
that bobs and weaves and never gets hit.
It landed and hung from the drapes, upside
down, as you hung in my body for a while.
Bats are not the only flying mammals.
That afternoon in line for the bus, you cried,
so tired you thought you’d fall asleep
and miss your stop. Years from now, child,
in some helpless dusk, remember that fatigue
but how you made it home to me anyway
in the care of a kind farmer—bus driver.
Recall that once I arrived late, your bus
gone, and when I found you, carefully seated
by a coffeepot in a corner of a dim garage
at the school bus lot, you just said, Let’s go,
Mama. Don’t tell anyone about this.
What I Learned From My Mother
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
Among the first we learn is good-bye,
your tiny wrist between Dad’s forefinger
and thumb forced to wave bye-bye to Mom,
whose hand sails brightly behind a windshield.
Then it’s done to make us follow:
in a crowded mall, a woman waves, “Bye,
we’re leaving,” and her son stands firm
sobbing, until at last he runs after her,
among shoppers drifting like sharks
who must drag their great hulks
underwater, even in sleep, or drown.
Living, we cover vast territories;
imagine your life drawn on a map–
a scribble on the town where you grew up,
each bus trip traced between school
and home, or a clean line across the sea
to a place you flew once. Think of the time
and things we accumulate, all the while growing
more conscious of losing and leaving. Aging,
our bodies collect wrinkles and scars
for each place the world would not give
under our weight. Our thoughts get laced
with strange aches, sweet as the final chord
that hangs in a guitar’s blond torso.
Think how a particular ridge of hills
from a summer of your childhood grows
in significance, or one hour of light–
late afternoon, say, when thick sun flings
the shadow of Virginia creeper vines
across the wall of a tiny, white room
where a girl makes love for the first time.
Its leaves tremble like small hands
against the screen while she weeps
in the arms of her bewildered lover.
She’s too young to see that as we gather
losses, we may also grow in love;
as in passion, the body shudders
and clutches what it must release.
A Family History
At dusk the girl who will become my mom
must trudge through the snow, her legs
cold under skirts, a bandanna tight on her braids.
In the henhouse, a klook pecks her chapped hand
as she pulls a warm egg from under its breast.
This girl will always hate hens,
and she already knows she won’t marry a farmer.
In a dim barn, my father, a boy, forks hay
under the holsteins’ steaming noses.
They sway on their hooves and swat dangerous tails,
but he is thinking of snow, how it blows
across the gray pond scribbled with skate tracks,
of the small blaze on its shore, and the boys
in black coats who skate hand-in-hand
round and round, building up speed
until the leader cracks that whip
of mittens and arms, and it jerks around
fast, flinging off the last boy.
He’d be that one- flung like a spark
trailing only his scarf.