I knew her first as the rhythm
of her cane on the floor above–faint
lexicon of creaks and taps that let me
invent her cramped apartment–the certain
television, the recliner and withered
ottoman she sidesteps to the kitchen.
But it’s my neighbor’s laugh that turns
the ceiling’s thick plaster to ricepaper,
the same laugh that, outside, calls to her heels
her scooter- and trike-propelled tribe
of neighborhood children, this extended family
she’s adopted because polio’s kept her from kids
of her own. Outside the grocery she asks
about my sister’s second child. Two years
of agencies, I answer, and still paperwork’ll
keep him from her arms for weeks.
a transitional family, and another imagined
room–portable crib, plush mobile
dangling from the respirator, and a rainbowed
circus whirls to his charted pulse.
The sweet anxieties of early parenthood.
Two decades of marriage, it’s 1975,
and my mother starts the new year
with her own troubled pregnancy,
the early delivery that may not be early
enough. First hours on the other side of labor,
and a clergy absolves the failing child–
prayers, fogging the surface of a plastic
womb, blur his gestures to vague curves.
Then, once the child’s prepared
for heaven, the doctors do their best
to delay his trip, and he’s wheeled away
to the last of four transfusions, the one
that finally sustains him. Those anonymous
donors, their blood bagged and chilled
to come alive again in me–I’ve never wondered
until today what their names might be,
what community of fluids cruises my veins.
Little one, all this to tell you something simple:
we’re of one blood. The grocery’s lights
fizzle and fade. My neighbor’s dark skin deepens
to twilight. I’m walking her home, a bag
in each hand, and she’s describing
the milk, eggs, flour, and the buttered
cornbread they’ll become. When I pull out
the photo of a child, curled, almost,
into a fist-sized ball, she props her cane
against her door. Ain’t that something, she says,
and laughs one of her two-syllabled laughs
that truly means ain’t that something.
Then she pauses, looks at the ground,
and honey, she says, talking, now, almost
to herself, if you knelt each time
a miracle passed your eyes,
you’d never get off your knees.
–from Tongue & Groove