“A poem’s meaning is a poem’s complaint.”
We weren’t allowed to play there. It was filthy,
my mother sternly said, scrubbing grimy sickles
from under our nails. You could catch polio.
From her lips the o’s rolled down into the sink
and floating there took on pale soapy rings
circling the drain before they vanished
down the metal grate into that pit below, black,
bottomless, bleeding always into itself. After lunch
we cuddled our dolls, then lingered by the sandbox and the swing
before we drifted off into the farthest corner
of this rented summer place, where pine and shrub
sealed off mounds of old refuse from the Victorian windows.
Between weeds our shovels sifted the sand for
rubble of summer guests from long ago: a battered
spoon with engraved lettering, Otto buried under curlicue;
the ornate oval of a picture frame, shards of a mirror
in which we saw our faces puzzled and cracked. And what we cherished most: those small glass bottles
of vanished medicines with their transparent chambers
in blues and greens intact, sacs of air like little fossilized lungs.
After wiping them with our sleeves and dipping our fingers
into the narrow throats for the last grains of sand,
we lifted them above us into the wind and made them
sing, a voice gathered from back in the pines with
perfectly round lips softly breathing ohhh,
the longest, most patient moan: ohhh for polio,
for summers gone, and ohhh for us and for, oh, everything.