Saturday, March 24, 2007

Winter 1956

I Begin With a Moment*

-- One particular moment. It is Sunday, after the family Sunday dinner. Sweet with the smells, of Sunday. There is the fireplace, wood burning; there is the staircase, warming as it rises.

I am sitting halfway up the staircase, facing out; my hands loosely encircle the smooth swelling bars of railing. I am bathed in the swelling comfort of rising air.

I am a child, about ten, as I remember it. About ten, always in my memory. And my beloved, because that year I do have an earthly beloved, is a black fox; they call her a dog, but she is a fox, and does not belong in my grandmother’s house, but today has miraculously been allowed in. I do not know why, but I accept the gift.

She is lying by the fire, warming herself. Outside is snow. Wind churns at the chimney, at the frost covered windows. My black fox is lying still, calm as a dog, content to be accepted in this human house with its food smells, and fire; this house which contains me as well (whom she loves).

And we do know one another. We have pledged our love. We are meeting at this moment in the air, by the ceiling, between the staircase and the fire. And I am, in no childlike way, happy.

I am more happy than could possibly be imagined: I who breathe the air of my beloved, who is breathing the air of me.

I look down from the height of the staircase. My eyes follow the pattern of carpet, the yellow play of fire, the bright squares of Sunday comics left open on the floor by the fire. And everything I see is perfect.

And now the voices sift into consciousness; the other children, their laughter; their running feet striking the staircase; the slamming of doors for hide & seek. All is a concert, a celebration of my joy. And beyond the child-sounds, riding the air of the kitchen, the sounds of after-meal clean-up; the clatter of dishes, spoons, glasses, could be bells. It is so beautiful to my ear.

Until I hear the adult voice, always so powerful, one adult speaking to another adult, as though children had no ears:

“And what is the matter with Joanie? Why does she always sit by herself? Why is she not happy?”

I do not understand these words -- But they thicken the air that I breathe, and they sound in my chest, painful as an accusation, constant as a mantra, constantly repeating itself, still, after all these years.

*This poem appeared in my graduate thesis, 1988