After my father died, the other children
were kind and took great delight
in giving me secret gifts – a jujube
hermetically sealed in cellophane,
a goose feather with a bent tip,
a box of Ohio Blue Tip matches.
They allowed me to win at stoop soccer,
whistleball, all their impenetrable games
whose rules are like the Law,
decipherable only when broken.
The girls invited me to walk with them
under tall sticky pines
pulsing with the loneliness of crickets.
Cindy kissed me. A girl with no name
touched my earlobe experimentally.
Teacher let me pass the Pyramid Test
though I answered at random,
just a whirl of zeroes.
Even the blue dog followed me home.
Our cat brought me a sparrow
still flying gravely in its mouth.
I was confused: were they bribing me?
If they loved me, it was strange
as swallowing a moth.
My mother made my birthday meal,
large meatballs mixed with small,
Swedish and Italian, though even I
understood she moved like a puppet
on strings of supernatural fatigue.
That night I had my favorite dream:
my father lifting me in strong arms
out of Monday into Friday,
out of August into November,
out of childhood into old age.
(First appeared in The Times Literary Supplement.)
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