We talk over the old bones of the past,
The way people sitting beside a campfire
Take a stick and poke the dying embers of flame
Licking the last log-remnants
Burning in the night air of endings.
We sigh over how it makes sense now
The scenarios once locking us all in blindness
Show themselves clear and sparkling
As light dancing on water
Their jagged-edged episodes
Blistering clear in the light of passed time.
It is how a mother and daughter pick through the past
Of a husband, father, grandfather – his absence
Like a leaf we hand back and forth
Turning it over and over again
Examining its veins and edges and discolorations —
As if this examining will somehow tell us
What made it turn loose and drop from the tree.
Only in the backwoods of Carolina
in the Year of Our Lord, 1982
would the marriage of a 23 year old man
and a 15 year old girl
make sense. And
Without a pregnancy, to boot!
No need for a shotgun
except we loved before we knew
what love cost,
the price exacted
as that first great flame of crush
burns low, embers left
You were my person of first things:
First trip to the mall
First dinner in a steakhouse
First trip to a movie theater
to watch romance
its union through Richard
and Debra in An Officer and A Gentleman.
All with you. Before then
I walked through gardens, picked peaches.
Motorcycle gangs and Jack Daniels drinking —
straight from the bottle — rape violence poverty
the three demons of daily existence.
You could save me
but it would take years to understand
the depth of that damage,
more years to know no one
could save me from myself.
I hated me years before you
with that cold-sterile hatred.
My promise of kindness
like that day I gave you
a shoulder rub, like
our first Christmas shopping
the mall in Charlotte, the night
I sat in the new pink nightgown
beside the Christmas tree and you
said I was beautiful. Then
I wished I could use your eyes
not those dirty broken lenses I owned.
And I wish the children knew now
How much we loved back then —
air to lungs, pulse through blood —
before they became the only us that endures.