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


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.

12 (to explain later)


Burn Like That

Burn like the end of a cigarette,
my mother in a terrycloth dress
drinking Pepsi Free (diet, with lemon),
and we all thought the late ’70s
would never end, Seattle
would never end, my mother
would never end. Burn like that.

4 (to explain later)


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. 


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.



3 (will be explained later)


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.


The Magic Was in Nearness

Did she mourn them privately,
the chain-smoking drinkers of
black coffee or Constant Comment tea,
wisecracking knowers of my mother’s
secret heart? Did she grieve in her bedroom
while my father was away, maybe in the new town?
Did she miss them before we even left, because
her daily friends would soon become
Christmas card friends, maybe a phone call
now and then? When we moved, we really moved:
Nashville to Seattle, for example. Seattle to Minnesota.
Too far to visit, and besides, the magic was in nearness —
a kitchen table, an ashtray, a curl of blue smoke,
a child or two to shoo away, to let the real talk begin.

2 (will be explained eventually)


I’m Sorry and I’m Not

I’m sorry that when we lived in Seattle
(OK, a suburb of)
and my parents would ask me to go outside
in the evenings, in my nightgown and bare feet
to salt the slugs,
I would do it. I didn’t know, somehow,
that when they foamed and flipped and writhed,
it meant I had killed them. I didn’t know.
somehow, that they were living animals at all —
it made no sense, my parents giving me a salt shaker,
if it was to kill something as the sun went down
behind the fir trees and inside Mount Rainier.
Once I realized, I stopped. I was probably four.
Around that same age, one day when I was playing
in the front yard, I couldn’t make it inside in time,
so I squatted at the end of the driveway, peeing
in the suds where we had just washed the car.
I’m not sorry. I stand by that decision, even now.


Tired of Moving

Miss Scarlet (the one in Clue)
will never be the same. At your new house,
eventually, you’ll open the box to play
(they have rainy days here, too, it turns out)
and the horrible brown packing tape
will remove her cheek, one red lip, her entire
fancy cigarette holder. It has a certain smell,
that tape — the acrid skunkiness of leaving,
perhaps, the panicked knowledge that
once you go, you can never come back.

13 (to explain later)


This Was in 1990

For reasons I still don’t understand
and can no longer ask, my mother
wouldn’t let me pull my mattress off my bed
and put it on the floor. So, of course, I did it anyway,
and just made sure to put it back every morning.
But in the in-between, I would listen to
“Music from the Hearts of Space” on NPR,
on my boom box,
look at the moon through dark trees,
and spook myself and soothe myself, both,
over not knowing how long I would be where I was.

14 (I think)


Playground, Thief River Falls

Hollowing out the shell of a day
a wash of warmth, a tumble of
leaves dirt acorns, then snow

Where are you now? We used to play
duck, duck, goose
or was it duck, duck, gray duck?

I was only a Minnesotan for two years;
some memories fade away

but I remember “Jaws” on a snowdrift,
joining in even though I was a stranger
and would be again, and am now.

In 1979, it was glorious, escaping
the movie shark with you, or maybe
you were the shark. But it was glorious.

That much I know.

1 (counting will be explained eventually)