At dusk the girl who will become my mom must trudge through the snow, her legs cold under skirts, a bandanna tight on her braids. In the henhouse, a klook pecks her chapped hand as she pulls a warm egg from under its breast. This girl will always hate hens, and she already knows she won't marry a farmer. In a dim barn, my father, a boy, forks hay under the holsteins' steaming noses. They sway on their hooves and swat dangerous tails, but he is thinking of snow, how it blows across the gray pond scribbled with skate tracks, of the small blaze on its shore, and the boys in black coats who skate hand-in-hand round and round, building up speed until the leader cracks that whip of mittens and arms, and it jerks around fast, flinging off the last boy. He'd be that one—flung like a spark trailing only his scarf.
Among the first we learn is good-bye,
your tiny wrist between Dad's forefinger
and thumb forced to wave bye-bye to Mom,
whose hand sails brightly behind a windshield.
Then it's done to make us follow:
in a crowded mall, a woman waves, "Bye,
we're leaving," and her son stands firm
sobbing, until at last he runs after her,
among shoppers drifting like sharks
who must drag their great hulks
underwater, even in sleep, or drown.
Living, we cover vast territories;
imagine your life drawn on a map—
a scribble on the town where you grew up,
each bus trip traced between school
and home, or a clean line across the sea
to a place you flew once. Think of the time
and things we accumulate, all the while growing
more conscious of losing and leaving. Aging,
our bodies collect wrinkles and scars
for each place the world would not give
under our weight. Our thoughts get laced
with strange aches, sweet as the final chord
that hangs in a guitar's blond torso.
Think how a particular ridge of hills
from a summer of your childhood grows
in significance, or one hour of light--
late afternoon, say, when thick sun flings
the shadow of Virginia creeper vines
across the wall of a tiny, white room
where a girl makes love for the first time.
Its leaves tremble like small hands
against the screen while she weeps
in the arms of her bewildered lover.
She's too young to see that as we gather
losses, we may also grow in love;
as in passion, the body shudders
and clutches what it must release.