Disasters

When Mount St. Helens erupted
in the spring of 1980, I made much of it,
telling my first-grade classmates in Minnesota
how close we’d lived to that mountain —
not true at all, but I needed something
to secure myself as something other than
the new kid, having gone through days and days
of crying over math worksheets, how many pennies
to buy a whistle, how many pink erasers for a quarter?
Anyway, the drama of a disaster was useful
in crafting my new persona at age 7,
and also, I dabbled in meanness, one time
telling a boy who asked me how to spell electricity
that it was E-L-L-E-E-T-T-T-R-I-C-I-T-T-Y,
causing (once he realized) a disastrous fury
of erasing on that cheap paper they gave us.
One thing I can’t remember is if it was him or me
who drew Mount St. Helens, a better-than-stick-figure
man falling off the top; probably there was lava, too.

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Life Is the Making of Ghosts

But what is there to forgive?
Life is the making of ghosts, perhaps,
for all of us, in one way or another.
If I hadn’t moved all those times,
someone else would have —
a best friend or a solid neighbor,
my world sliding down like a sandcastle,
even as I stayed in one place.
Houses move on around us, too,
only frozen in time if we have that
snapshot moment, from the car
pulling down the driveway,
watching the garage door close
one last time.

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Seventeen

Because I’m still in love with you
on this harvest moon, but here I am
alone on the couch in my parents’ house
in Worthington Hills, lost forever

probably

watching Neil Young on Saturday Night Live
while you’re out somewhere on this Saturday night,
this harvest moon, without me, and I know

as long as I live, there will be no ache
like this one — at least I hope not, anyway.

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The Last Baby

A hint of dusty summer sun and standing water
(watch out for mosquitoes — extra large in Minnesota),
the smell of my tire swing. A few feet away, in the garage,
my old crib, fully assembled. I was eight years old,
the last baby. When I discovered it one day, and for
several days after, I climbed over the side and in.
I couldn’t have explained why — so it’s a good thing
it never did break. When it was time to sell the house,
I made my parents take down the tire swing.
Some other kid could have my room, but not that.
The crib, we sold. It didn’t need to make the move.
It was time to let it go, my mother said.
Time to let it go. 

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Crop Duster

By 1980, the world had changed around my mother
enough that, sitting at our kitchen table in Thief River Falls,
with her 20th high school reunion form in front of her,
she could not bear to write housewife or homemaker
in the blank for “occupation.” Hell’s bells, she might have thought,
valedictorian of LaSalle High School in Niagara Falls, expected
by all to do something other than raise children — but caught
between things, told that she couldn’t be a writer or lawyer
and also raise children. Hell’s bells. So, my mother lied
extravagantly, said she was an agricultural pilot,
a crop duster flying low over sunflower fields.
At the reunion, she couldn’t walk back the lie, so they
gave her the award for Most Unusual Profession —
a feather duster. It’s entirely possible that she used it.

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Cookie Rock

When I found the cookie rock
among tumbled, decorative stones
in our side yard, around the downspout,
I had secrets with it, its cool smell of earth,
its fit in my palm. I bit it at least once.
I still have it somewhere — it’s not lost,
just packed away, and someday I may find it
when I’m looking for something else,
and then I’ll swear never to lose it again.
I know I showed it to Helena Bolen,
and she gamely pretended to be fooled
when I told her it really was a cookie.
Helena Bolen, my adopted grandparent
on Grandparents’ Day at school. Her house,
the plastic runner to protect the carpet,
her cat named Tweety, one time jumping
on my back with claws out, kneading.
I think I had privileges there, to knock
and always find her, Helena Bolen,
happy to see me. Even her name
is solid, a kindness that is
not lost to me, only
packed away.

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