I do not need to summon that one—
it returns to me as regularly as the valleys
in between the hills. There’s Mum again
sorting laundry, one eye to whatever’s
boiling over on the stove. The latest baby
has awakened, cries like toothache. Probably
needs changing. Is that someone at the door?
And where am I? Slouched on the couch
reading yet another story of some other life.
Suddenly she’s there, Mum looming over me
and a hard whack smacks across my face:
“Who do you think you are? Get your nose
out of that book! Make yourself useful!” Why,
I wonder, is her voice so crazy, full of hate?
As suddenly, she’s gone. I am ten years old.
Big red drops fall to the open page upon my lap.
Swallowing blood, I raise my arm and dab my
nose upon my sleeve, lean my head back to
stop the flow. What will I tell the old librarian
about these stains that happened to her book?
I stand, a little wobbly. Go and help. Only later
do I see how certain words like Love and True
began to grow unmeaningful that day. Poetry
slipped quietly away. Usefulness ate the better
part of time until, after half a dozen decades of
the kind of sweet obedience that kills, in age I find
poetry again, sufferance, compassion to forgive—
though Mum is dead, and that old memory still lives.