V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





Hard to believe we could neglect it so,
year after year the sleek wood blistering
where we'd arranged the potted plants to drink
their ration of water and fitful light.
Hard to believe, though we had done the damage,
the pasts that we would keep alive in there—
old infants' clothes, old cards, old albums stacked
like ziggurats, neat rows of plastic bags
that spill a flood of photographs
at the least mishandling.  I see those faces
jumbled across my childhood floor and find
among them younger versions of myself,
propped with my brother at a blanket's edge,
or at the mirror pretending to shave.
In others, I'm in my black prom tux,
cock of the walk, my arm around my girl;
or standing at the brink of Millbrook Glen,
wild-haired, awash in my self-regard.
So the tidal pull of gravity accrues,
year by year, that shapes a life.
What did my father feel the night he wrote
this one love letter my mother kept
after the war?  And what did she feel
unfolding the crisp leaf that nearly crumbles now?
Yellowed shots of a place called Shepherd's Farm,
an album that plays its sentimental march,
could be emblems of a time preserved,
though everything we know insists such tropes
don't fit, refuse the claims of changelessness.
And so those two posed together close,
twenty years younger than I am now,
appear to me a puzzle to compare
with the parents I loved and tried to know,
who lived their lives together mostly sad.
Like churned-up clay my mother's wedding dress
floats with the wreckage of this cedar box,
the gown itself a shifting confluence,
its veil ephemeral as the scent it brings
of mothballs and old wood, or some deeper past
that drifts away from me and out of sight.
I bury my face in its swell, and draw breath.

© by Daniel Tobin


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