I dislike uncertainty. Take no pleasure in the element of surprise.
I’ll carry the clipboard and checklists around
at my own birthday party. No need to leave anything to chance.
It was my son’s idea of course. There was a plastic pirate out front
and the promise of treasure at the end. I paid, then
shuffled behind, his voice ringing out, follow me—
All glass and mirrors. I saw myself reflected a thousand times
all of them weary, impatient. Some days motherhood is just
din and obstacle. I was thinking about
the letter I had received. Another dead end
in my family search. No contact information, no forwarding address.
No one—no one—had been looking for me.
At a certain point, I stopped trying. Extended my arms and felt
along the walls for edges. It was cheating maybe but plodding along
without pleasure or intent doesn’t get you to the end any faster.
It’s been forty-five years. My mother, my father, they
are not getting any younger. Perhaps I waited too long. Perhaps
if I had started earlier there would have been other options. Other
people to reach out to. I read once in my file that I had
a “very good memory,” that I memorized the names
of all the neighborhood dogs. I would like to know them now.
I saw him before he saw me. He was looking around and pacing
not panicked yet but on the verge. I stopped and watched him for as long
as I thought he could bear. He turned when I emerged at last
and ran up and showed me the flag he had won
for making it through first. You were so slow, he told me. It was so
easy. Next time, don’t take so long.
Copyright © 2021 by Mary-Kim Arnold. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.