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Frances Richey

Frances Richey is the author of The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War (Penguin Books, 2008) and The Burning Point (White Pine Press, 2004), winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. She lives in New York City.

By This Poet

2

The Return

What do you say when you've forgotten
how the grass smells,
married to the dark
soil crumbling in your hands?
When the sun makes a bed for you to lie in?
When a voice you've never heard
has missed you,
singing down your bones--
it's taken so long to get here.

Now I'm breathing in the mountains
as if I'd never left.
And when I go inside
I'm surprised to see a lime green worm
has landed on my shorts,
inching his way across a strange white country.

He stops and rises,
leaning out of himself--
a tiny periscope
peering from the glow of the underdream
where there are no symbols for death.

He looks around.

I place my index finger
at the tip of what I guess to be his head,
though I don't see an eye or an ear,
or the infinitesimal feet
as he crawls across my palm--
a warmer planet.

Lately I've wondered
what hand guides my way when I am lost.

I can't feel him
though I see him rise again,
survey the future, flat
and broken into five dead ends.
I curl my fingers to make a cup
and carry him like a blessing to the garden--

What will happen next is a mystery--
to be so light in the world, to leave no tracks.

Letters

1

Before he left for combat,
he took care of everything:
someone to plow the driveway,
cut the grass.
And the letter he wrote me,
just in case, sealed,
somewhere, in a drawer;
can't be opened,
must be opened
if he doesn't return.
I feel for my keys, 
hear his voice:
Less is better. Late
for work, still,
I linger
at the window of the Century
Florist, a bowl of peonies,
my face among the tulips.

2

Last Mother's Day, when
he was incommunicado,
nothing came.
Three days later, a message
in my box; a package,
the mail room closed.
I went out into the lobby,
banged my fist against 
the desk. When they 
gave it to me, I clutched it
to my chest, sobbing 
like an animal.
I spoke to no one,
did not apologize.
I didn't care about the gift.
It was the note I wanted,
the salt from his hand,
the words.