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At Either End of Memory

ISSUE:  Summer 1995

When I was a child—
the mothers of my two friends
committed suicide and I tried to decide
which way was better.
Because my mother taught me
to be discriminating I had to ask
teeth blown in the ceiling or
Dodge doing 85 into a moss oak.

Years later, it’s fall—

I still can hear the poor girls, they have no
mother. Which was better, the daddy
left to climb poles for the telephone company
or the one who knew the whereabouts
of every screw in his hardware store?
How quiet he was with his p.g. belly
and white shirt while we waited
to be driven somewhere. For years
we watched him sweep oiled sawdust
along the aisles of sockets and paint.

Months have almost made the year—

Fall: What was to be, is.
In June Robert dove.
Wild and exuberant. In the creek at night.
All broken his neck
and spine smashed like that. The muscular gold
of his body in that dive arcs forever.
In April, Abby.
Shot in the heart.
As in newspapers.
By her husband. Was it accidental
like dropping a glass?
“Guns go off,” the law said.

Last week for an instant—

I saw smiling Abby in line for opera tickets but
the dress was too expensive. Again
I saw her on 280 in the backseat of a VW
leaning up to talk.
On my radio the Beach Boys
wishing we all could be California girls.
I turned up the music, shifted to fifth,
cruising speed. So close to home
that Abby of Perpetual Explosion.
The grief goes nowhere or is it
absorbed everywhere?

When I was a child—

I had a gum eraser, square and yellow.
I erased whole pages on the crops
of Bolivia, decided to start over
with floods of the Tigris and Euphrates.
My hand was hard.
On the page held up to the light
I saw engraved my upright cursive, made out
what I started to say. Robert can still tear
through my mind
after his ferret escaped from the cage and
his father shouting slow down, slow down.
Now Robert has “some grip” back.
Other patients call him “Superquad.”
Abby’s gone. What’s left of her?
I hold her new white book.

When I was a child—

I found old salt blocks in the field,
licked by rough tongues into staring faces.
The forefinger of the father of her children
on the trigger. Passion or carelessness?
She will always be amazed.
Mothers, I’m amazed. My mother’s child,
I sort things out. Long after she gave up.
She instilled free will. When I was bad
I even got to choose between whipping or no supper.
Further, between peach switch and yardstick.
What do they grow in Bolivia?
Hold the page to the window, start over, start over.
One of the daddys later fried his arm
on electrical wire. Now he pumps
one armed gas.

Many years erased—
most of his face but something
in his shoulders makes me know him.
How wrong you were my mother.
Everything that can happen happens.
I own a lot of time.
Robert is smiling.
We send books and cards. He cannot undive.
In the side mirror I see Mr. Hanks,
khaki sleeve folded up with a pin,
fit the nozzle in the tank.
The wheels of his wife’s car spin
yet, upended in his pupils.
I turn the mirror up to the clouds.

At either end of memory—

and littered between, many salt faces.
The old daddy remembers,
One of Garbert’s girls aren’t you,
I’d know that mouth anywhere.
He pushes in the receipt and I sign.
His daughter moved North. She and I
used to look at catalogues. Which
one would you choose if you could choose
anything on this page?


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