The best thing about the house
I grew up in was that it sat at the edge
of a small weedy lake
where my mother and I would row
to a raft through a thick tangle
of water lilies, their white cups floating
above green saucers.
She would tie a rope around my chest,
hold it taut and walk the edge
of the raft as I flailed in the water
learning to swim.
Now I walk the tight perimeter
of loss, love’s ligaments stretching
between us as she prepares
to swim out of this life—
and I remember as summer passed,
as my strokes grew stronger and more sure,
how she would let the rope slacken
until I could dive down, sink
into buoyancy, into perfect silence
as the known world disappeared
in a haze of brown-gold water.
My mother stands over a sizzling pan,
father shakes out the Sunday paper,
Detroit Tigers on the radio
and I on the floor on my stomach,
alone on an island of funny papers.
We have traversed the wild reaches
of night. The storm blown over,
overflowing ashtrays empty,
the glass with its oily brown liquid
gone. Only obdurate ghosts of rings
remain. I turn my head slightly and see
my father’s thin ankles in clean
white socks, his feet neat in leather
slippers, hear the clement breezes
of his paper. My mother in her green
dress quivers like a palm tree.
We are shipwrecked, washed up
on this Sunday shore. I close
my eyes, put my face down, my
cheek on Orphan Annie. The radio
continues to emit its droning
play-by-play, SOS no one can hear,
and the ship with white sails
does not come.
Sonnet for the 1941 Pere Marquette Steam Engine
Paunchy husbands, resigned wives, my graying
classmates and I climb aboard for a class reunion.
For a while we are all happy children,
baggage stowed, waving from open windows
as the antique train crawls across time-darkened
trestles, abandoned pastures stippled with sumac,
goldenrod—green summer yielding to florid fall.
From a pond Canada geese erupt, leaving
on the long flight to the heart’s other home.
Too short, too short, this journey, the body
just learning to lean to the rhythm, the mind,
like the skin of the snake, empty, asking nothing,
wanting nothing but this run through
evanescent landscapes, shade and sun.
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