The road is so familiar
it should rest as a subliminal
background to my concentration
on the asphalt of the Interstate.
Instead I glance in the rearview
mirror over and over
images not of the flat landscape
distant grain elevators
taller than steeples
cattle pens and wheat fields
but images in imagination
pop like text balloons
and the truck
just pulling out of the weigh station.
Heavier than his tonnage
I see the marble slab
on my mother’s crypt
the headstone at my father’s grave
foundations of the homes I lived in
and the hospital where
my children, long gone from here,
A restless cloud of winter starlings
crosses the road veers here and there
as they aim for their target
a grove of jack pine in a creek cut
below the hill.
Crowds of thoughts
echo their movement:
what the divorce court looked like
the funeral home too often visited
one church, cold and indifferent
where solace was sought
and finally came
with the release
of both it and its city.
What of the good times?
What of the laughter of children
repeated this very week
in the deeper tones of adults?
What of the loves
the families made
and then reconstituted
with each marriage?
What I leave behind
is only a husk of a city
devoid now of any family
and most friends
as I carry away
the last box of belongings.
The automobile seems to tip
and proceed north
as I leave sad Memory
to rattle its carapace on the prairie.
If we were in kindergarten we would sit
on a bright patterned rug.
“Make a circle, children.
It’s story time.”
Instead, we sit on stiff, one-armed chairs
and pass around our speaking
with a box of tissue
as though it was a Kiowa talking stick.
We laugh at loss and cry over trivia.
We are poets
and this is grief’s playroom.
The neighborhood, sometimes tatty
occasionally post modern
mostly gabled Victorian houses
with porches smiling in the sun
was perfect for student renters.
My father abandoned the South
in 1907 to spend his freshman year here
before the harsh winter chased him home.
Did he walk this street every day to class?
A fleeting thought until I stood
before the yellow brick building,
Romanesque arches with two story columns
and a bulbous window.
The green awning read
Pinkus McBrides’ Market & Deli.
Above it—l893—worked in brick.
Is this the place
he got the idea for the book store
and chili parlor across the street
from what became his own alma mater?
Other than a nickname
he carried for life, is this where the idea
for success began?
Memory invaded and I stood on another sidewalk
in another city outside old Presbyterian Hospital
smoking a cigarette and waiting for results of the spinal tap.
I knew he was dying.
Today he would be one hundred and fourteen years old.
No. Today, not was, but is.
Mother said it to me before I was old enough to speak.
My kids and I say it every time we hang up the phone,
The first time I whispered “I love you” was in the front seat
of an Oldsmobile hard top, white over baby blue.
I meant it when I said yes to my husband and we exchanged rings.
I meant it more when my lips moved against the married man’s back
but it made no difference.
“I love you” I shouted at the cabby who returned my wallet.
“I wov you,” I say to the cat who licks me in the mornings
and to grandchildren who hug me at night.
Most of all I remember saying it as I kissed your temple
then slipped out of the room the day before my birthday
the day before you died.
I sit by the roadside
sandal in one hand
and in the other a shard
of some granite boulder
ground away countless years ago
by unfathomable ice
smoothed by time
a marker of change.
Across the road a scarlet tanager
appears for a moment
on a branch of fragrant black-berries.
I have not seen a tanager for years in these woods.
Were it not for the tiny object
that halted my haste to town
I would have missed the momentary flash
of a songbird above ripening sweetness.
Memory pulls at time and unravels
the careful tapestry of illusion
woven to cover the soul’s tender bones
the psyche’s sinew
and flesh, never perfect.
We deny that fancy wears emperor-clothes
pretend all is well, until some untimely tear
reveals the scars we would hide
more from ourselves than others.
Time’s harsh steel begins at the cutting edge
of events, scrapes until the hone is dulled
then spins tangled strands that catch
the recurring knife as it rounds upon itself.
Finally years take up the sand and emery
so that if a wound remains, it cannot kill.
Memory, mother lode of life mixed ore and slag
ordinary dross with shining nuggets, a few gems
and the occasional fossil perfect in outline
an intaglio of reality that tricks the mind
into forgetting the real is gone forever.
Mother showed me
how to fold undergarments
into small rectangles and triangles
so that they would stack neatly in a drawer.
I ignored her.
Mine were a tangle of silky fabric and lace
a cloud of colors from quiet beige to scarlet.
Panties, bras, half slips and full ones
teddies when they were in style
the odd thong belonging to a daughter
I refused to tutor in the art of laundry.
On Monday the daughter was sharing tea
with me in the kitchen.
She pushed aside a basket of clean clothes
to make room for cups, said
“Jeez, Mom, isn’t that the way
Grandma used to fold underwear?”