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ISSUE:  Summer 1984
Father John picked the baby up and whirled
About with her, lost her, picked her up
Tenderly and began dancing again, a sort
Of lumbering waltz, lost her, lost her. . . .
To look into his eyes was to see gentleness
On fire, despondent love. We turned away
But the night windows showed us our own domestic
Wilderness. Recitals, impatience, weary facts,
Awakenings in the craw of the marauding night—
No one exactly screamed. Life isn’t like that.
It was more a matter of those looks. You could
See the secret coming. You knew there’d be hell to pay,
But hell never gets definitively paid.
Flesh and blood soothes; Mama Kate could
Sing a song to make you weep, about nothing really—
A meadow mouse, a cloud, a doll made of straw.
All that fitful mercy infected us.
It could make you believe in God or your wedding day
Or even being big yourself, having children
And kissing them and frowning because the two never
Get untangled, the hand that teases you will beat
You too. Somedays we go down to the river and
We lie on the rocks and enjoy the simpleness of it,
Just bodies, not a sister or brother. Old strap welts
Pale in the sun and when other people talk
To you it doesn’t seem so bad that they’ll
Never know. Because you wouldn’t want them to.
What’s familiar is special. What’s intimate is
Something undecided—half kindly, half cruel.


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