copyright © 2014 by Deming Holleran
THE ROAD HOME
The darkened limbs of oaks hulk overhead
along the lonely roadside where the child,
a Christmas Pageant angel homeward bound,
grasps sticks to guard against the dread
of shadows, while imagination, wild
and fearful, conjures reasons to condone
abandonment. Why weren’t they there, when all
the other children’s parents came to call
for them, proclaiming gladly what a fine
production it had been, how proud they were
of their own shepherd, Mary, Joseph, king
or angel. Tired, cold, forlorn, but there
at last, she eyes their tight and merry knot:
it is the cocktail hour, and they forgot.
My daughter asks, “What was he like,
Efficiently, I proceed directly
to the tidy reference catalogue
of my mind, where I keep
my memories in neat compartments.
With practiced concision, I respond:
“Just under six feet tall,
great sense of humor, cameras always slung
around his neck, organic gardener,
an avid fisherman, a modest man.”
Curiosity thwarted, you drop the subject.
Help me! Take my hand
as I took yours
when you were small,
lead me on tiptoe
past that beartrap mind
into the neglected forest
of my senses.
Each time I taste a crust of fresh-baked bread
he’s there –
slicing off the end from one of four dark loaves
steeping the kitchen with the rich aroma
of his latest inspiration: molasses, wheat germ, honey,
and asking, very seriously, for my opinion.
When I smell the acrid tang that hangs in photo shops,
I’m bathed with him again in ultraviolet light,
a wide-eyed child prodding chemical solutions
with wooden tongs, helping him perform the darkroom magic,
changing spectral sheets of blank white paper
into photographs still hanging in our home.
The sight of anglers casting line
into a swiftly flowing stream
recalls the way he taught me:
“Raise the rod to two o’clock,
while counting one-chimpanzee-two,
then let it rip!” And his would sail
uncurling through the air, to lightly drop
the fly exactly where a salmon’s rise
had roiled the water just before.
Now the sound of neighbors raking leaves,
scratching muffled rhythms in the earth,
returns me to his side. Khaki-clad, an old fedora
shielding his bald pate from sun, he’d sweep
enormous heaps for me to leap into, and I’d fly
fearless from the roof of the clucking chicken coop,
he chuckling with pride.
The feel of him returns
when you and I are wrestling
playfully, unequal in our strength
since you are nearly grown and I am growing
older. When I was small enough
to crawl into his lap and pester him
to roughhouse, he twisted me
into contorted pretzel shapes,
then I would squeal delight,
and beg for more.
So, my dear, ask
and ask again –
spring my beartrap mind.
How suddenly it shattered,
heirloom bearing memory
of mother-art passed on:
generations of women gathering stalks,
setting them at angles, blooms
trumpeting beauty’s jubilant display;
emblem of the home, fractured
in a careless sweep of hand,
bruised petals strewn among the shards.
Just so, love splinters at the hasty word,
but seamless to the eye, mends up
with fault lines where the reckless rifts have torn.
INTO THE MIST
Fog shawls the islands’ shoulders
and the silent river, where a loon call
lingers in the early morning light.
My mother lies in the cool bedroom
of her house of fifty summers.
She is nearly eighty-eight, and weary,
opening her clouded eyes on one more day.
I see her head propped on pillows,
folds of skin thinner than the faded
collar of her nightgown. We are alone
and she asks, “Where am I?”
I cannot answer. I do not really know.
Her voice, my mother’s voice, is high,
as hollow as the loon’s. She leans
toward me, stretching hands like
sparrow talons searching for a perch.
My hands meet hers, and I am pulled down,
down into the mist, into the pillowed
cloudbank and the withered scent of her,
and I answer from the only place
that matters now, “You are with me.”
THE LITTLE LOSSES
It’s Independence Day, and all
our small belongings
are claiming theirs.
I think it’s willful, even diabolical,
the way they play at hide and seek –
my husband’s wallet loves
to slip between the driver’s seat
and door, often just before
he’s amassed those masculine essentials
at the hardware store, inching through
a checkout line ten husbands deep.
My glasses, all eight pairs
placed with foresight
next to chairs about the house,
remove themselves at will.
I thought I might outsmart
the cell-phone charging cord
by buying two, but soon
the coily one went missing.
No doubt it has wriggled up
beneath an armchair and wound
itself contentedly among the springs,
like a baby anaconda.
The other disappeared a week ago,
leaving the phone bleating
like an orphaned lamb,
then surfaced in my makeup bag.
I often wonder whether
all those things that choose
to go astray see themselves
as signposts, gentling us
along a path toward
the keener pain
of deeper deprivations –
of the money we thought we saved,
our eyesight, or even
someone’s whispered name.
And when I wonder this,
I bless the little losses
for their size.
Pajama-clad, his slippers
parting pebbles into
an unkempt double wake,
our aging neighbor
must have gauged the distance
to the curb within his capability,
not considering the return.
His wife, now keeper, slept.
Can’t a man be of some use?
To lug a weekly plastic bag
from house to street links
a man with neighbors, makes
a kind of brotherhood.
Proud of deed, he turned to will
his heavy feet toward home,
and fell, and lay, and waited.
Must it come to this,
that his rescuer, a man himself
past sixty, unfamiliar, should
heave him up and stagger with him
to the door? What did that
younger neighbor see? The eyes
of an animal, trapped
inside a body, seeking what?
Forgiveness. For the shame
of growing old.
The freckled gold of dawn-light
dances on the river’s satin skin,
stirred by breezes faintly
whispering, breathing soft caress
onto the vast cool flow. I linger,
stretched out nude at water’s lip,
fingering crisp lichens from the sun-warmed
swimming rock, flicking gray-green flakes
onto the water, tickling its surface.
Though years ago I plunged
with sensual abandon as my daughters do,
I savor now the sweet, seductive moments,
waiting for the primal urge to overwhelm.
I slide into the river, enfolded in its grace,
my eyes and mouth drinking in the air,
my body fathoming the world below,
each part curious, alive,
embraced by separate realms.
Last night I lit the lovely little lanterns
you’d planted improbably among
geranium beds along the terrace wall.
Dangling from slender, bending stems
they lilted like phosphorescent fantasies
in the evening breeze above the river, ’til
soon one faded, and then another failed.
I watched, dismayed. With easy grace,
you would have stepped inside the cottage
to your stash of votives and replaced them,
as simply as I would sew a missing button on.
A thousand times I’ve watched you tend
the candles or wash away splashed wax
from hurricane mantles to purify their gleam.
Candles are what you bring to us,
the good redeemed from childhood years
of Catholic obligations, and my assuming
your devotions feels quite wrong. And so
I sat there, taking in the growing darkness,
mulling over all the ways one person
can light another’s life.
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