The Shadows of Words

I can't imagine a mother
calling her child that
I remember I used to
fumble my words shy away
always feigning ignorance
I'd laugh at anyone
who would even want to talk to me
back when I'd grown dark enough
to understand why
the cops would pull me
off the sidewalk
and ask where I was going
ne-ne-neh-nowhere sir
I would stutter
even as I knew what I just said
would make them laugh
and wink at each other
even though I knew
I could walk down any street
even some they'd never go to
through that memory I saw
a child catching her words
whenever I raised my voice
or spoke directly to her
or when she pretended
not to know how to add
subtract or push a button
on a register or the least thing
about the subtleties
in human language anything
that required confidence
I felt that word lingering
in the way she cast her eyes
in her supplicated smile
that touched me like a burning
memory I am ashamed of
and in the way it shied behind
the reasons why we loved each other
I would try to encourage her
demonstrate how she could
do things for herself
ask for raises find out how
she could finish college
an educated professional
years later her mother's voice
would wax and she'd curl up
to me too much and I couldn't
shake her I couldn't
figure out what made me
finally overcome that feeling
some cops and fathers leave you with
sometimes I fall momentarily
back to that young man
who chased cum laude degrees
through half my life
and still I feel those cops
and that word that they didn't
even have to say
like I can imagine
her mother often did

From Acts of Love by Edgar Gabriel Silex. Copyright © 2004 by Edgar Gabriel Silex. Published by Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Dist. Reprinted by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved.