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The Visitor

ISSUE:  Spring 1987
Every summer, after the slender dogwood by the porch
has dropped its scalloped blossoms, my sister
moves back into the carcass of our house.
Most of the old belongings are disbursed,
most of the photographs, the lamps, the quilts,
the small unraveling stool.
And there’s a different smell—
some other kind of soap in the yellow bathroom,
some other dish simmering on the stove.
Upstairs, in the room we shared,
wasps crawl undisturbed across the pane.
Still, my sister says
she feels my father’s presence everywhere—
among the trees and bushes he had planted,
the billiard-cloth of grass she cuts and mends.
After midnight, he turns the light on
in the living room; and once, at his usual waking,
before daybreak could have lit the kitchen,
she heard his spoon chime against his cup.
But not my mother—
not on the glassed-in porch,
not beside the single strand of roses.

My sister thinks it’s natural that she comes,
that she stays through August, keeping up
the hardwood floors. Away from her grown children
she sings in the choir, empties another closet,
cultivates the bluebirds in their boxes.
When she calls, her news is either weather
or the birds, it is so quiet there.
But sometimes I hear her hesitate on the phone,
as though to tell me something, or to ask—

Then she is adult again, reports
a new house on the road and more trees cleared.
“Try to get home,” is what she says,
the closed vowel encompassing
our set of inland islands: ragged plug
of the Southern map, the house and yard
centered in the green voluptuous fields,
and all of my childhood, pocked reef
floating within me, relic of past eruption
now cooled, now temperate, populous, isolate,
from which I venture further and further
into this life, like a swimmer
still in training, aiming
for the mainland in the distance.


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