It must have been October, right after
the annual hanging of the winter drapes
and the ceremonial unrolling of the rug
from its summer sleep behind the sofa.
Gone were the slipcovers, leaving
the upholstery stripped down to warm
arms again, and the little living room
transformed into a mother hug of all
she labored for—the luxury of bastion
and snug, the thick stability of thick
pile, purchased with how many
on-her-knees hours of scour and rag.
The whir of the sewing machine at night,
and all those stretched nickels.
My sister would say this never happened
or if it did, it wasn't this way, or if it was,
I never cried, or if I did, how could I—
so young—know what was to cry about.
A room like that, in the Snow White
haven of the dwarves' house, and I
no more than four, rowing a cardboard
box across the rug, its flowered sea
lapping at my hands that were my oars.
When suddenly, there was my father
dancing to the radio or some crazy song
of his own making, flapping his arms
and yawping like a great enchanted
gull of happiness having nothing to do
with me. Or her. And I saw as through
the glass layers of the sea what he'd
been before I came in my little boat
grinding its vast engines of responsibility,
dragging him under, changing him into
someone other than the drowned beloved
I'd be trying to make it up to all my life.