I Can’t Remember Everything

But I can try to surface a few things
here and there
other than the greatest hits
of birthdays and Christmases and such.
I can call up ordinary days
in all of those houses (or most),
and in that way, go back to them,
and in that way, not be scattered ghosts.

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At the One House We Ever Rented

For a year, we had a tennis court
and a rusty orange swing set,
neighbors over fences,
my mother digging in her garden,
talking to the nice young couple
who lived behind us
(they ended up divorcing when the wife
had an affair with the organist at their church —
but I digress). Anyway, the tennis court
was the star of that yard, taking up almost
the entire thing, but not quite, and allowing me
a smooth outdoor surface on which to roller skate
in tall white skates with red and blue stripes
and a mismatched pair of tube socks
pulled as high as they could go.

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11 (to be explained)

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The Dinner Hour

Once, when the local Fred Astaire dance studio called
during the dinner hour, my mother listened to the sales pitch
for ballroom dancing lessons, then said she would have to decline
because she was in a wheelchair and “my husband better not
sign up for any dance lessons without me.”

It was a lie.

Other times, she wouldn’t tell such egregious falsehoods,
but would beg the person to quit calling at 6:00 or 6:30:
“Please. It’s the dinner hour” — as if she had no other means

to make them stop. When we asked her why she answered,
didn’t just say, “No, thank you” and hang up — or, better yet,
go on the Do Not Call registry — she protested. Telemarketers

need jobs, too, she said, and who was she to get them all fired
when a sure-footed lie could get her off the phone just as well?

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Not a Love Poem

This is not a love poem to you, oh moon —
you’ve had a few too many already,
and maybe I don’t appreciate how you’ve been
following me wherever I go, a fact I first noticed
on some winter night in Thief River Falls,
after my brother’s Boy Scout meeting,
where we all watched that movie about
the tiny canoe with the American Indian doll,
drifting away down a mighty river. Anyway,
I looked up at you and felt small, too aware of
the sky and how it stretched over all the places
I’d ever been and ever lived, and how you were
the same moon everywhere. So, moon, I think
we’re a little past love poems, after all this time —
don’t you? (But if you want one, I could try.)

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Toxic Con Flush

It was not a good idea, to try to con my mother,
making my math test disappear with a flush
of the toilet, which promptly backed up.
Math was toxic to me then, but
it would have been better to face it,
her wrath over a C-, maybe with a note
that said, What happened?? Better to face it
than to stand there saying, when she asked,
“What’s this?” that it appeared to be a
piece of paper of some sort, and I had no idea
what it was or how it got there, or whose it was.

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Perfection

Eventually, this game was banished to the basement,
but I used to play it anyway, torturing myself with
anticipation of the buzzer, all the pieces exploding
from their homes because I had failed at the task
of placing all of them before time ran out.
But which basement? I swear, I remember this
from the last house, our final destination,
the last place my mother lived. She and I played
Boggle, not Perfection, at the kitchen table — laughing
at dirty words, not bothering to write them down.

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5 (to explain later)

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A Broken Promise

Everyone in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, gambled on everything,
so it’s not all that shocking, maybe, that when we were 6, 7, or 8,
Lon Anderson (not Loni, just a boy in my class) bet me two dollars
that he could jump from the top of the jungle gym, and like a dummy —
what did I know? — I took the bet, which caused problems at home
that I had not anticipated, when I asked for two dollars, explained
why I needed it. My parents chose that moment to be piously Protestant,
to abhor gambling, or at least, their daughter taking part in it
at such a young age. After much hushed discussion, they decided
I would have to go to school empty-handed, explain to Lon Anderson
that I wasn’t allowed to gamble and should not have taken that bet,
and that I was sorry. Why don’t I remember following through?
Did I secretly borrow two dollars from my brother or find it in my room,
or did I break my promise to Lon, and it turned out to be no big deal?
In any case, now I know not to bet against someone who says they can
do something; every Lon has jumped off that jungle gym many times before.

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