Memories return now & then

The White House at Night - June 1890 (Auvers);
Oil on canvas, 59 x 72.5 cm (23 1/4 x 28 1/2")
Gogh, Vincent (Willem) van (b. March 30, 1853, Zundert, Neth.--d. July 29, 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise, France)
After Many Years Absent

Single bits of many houses clumped together
green shingled eves, a patched chimney
cracked, layered slate roofing, and attic dormers
the pale sky almost violet, fading in
this between hour after dinner and before bedtime

I have spent the day inside this house, alone
going through the rooms one floor at a time
lumbering methodically trying
to put all that has been moved or removed
back where it was before I left
before I knew I would ever leave
before I knew I would have to leave

Not much has changed. Only a few things
Time changes

I do not remember my crib even now
that I see it stowed in the attic next to Gramma’s
steamer trunk where Christmas ornaments packed
in old egg cartons and tissue paper
have been kept since she died in 1968.
The painted animals on the crib are worn
barely recognizable scant remains of a blue elephant
and the hingquaters of a zebra;
the whole of it covered in dust.

Do I remember my highchair? my potty? the yellow bear?
The yellow bear on the potty! Ballons tethered to his overalls
fallen down around fuzzy ankles, balloons red yellow blue & green.
I am sure I loved that bear.

I crouch down low below splintered raw beams
the dry air challenging my lungs. Light slips through
torn parts of the yellow browned parchment shade
nailed to the window frame and sill; worn, musty
holding secrets inside trapped away from the scorching sun
beating against the high dormer pane.

They told me over supper last night that I used to pinch Gramma’s legs
they say, to see her skin turn black and purple.
I remember liking Gramma Lillian. Lillian Marie.
She died when I was four and they did not let me go to her funeral.
I was too young for death, they said, and sent me to Mrs. Murphy.
I do remember

Gramma’s stockinged legs plump cushions from my head,
those big black nun shoes, and the finely stiched hem of paisley dresses
purple blue and dark maroon. I wrapped my arms around her legs
and squeezed tightly, sometimes afraid, sometimes rocking and giggling
safe from the harsh voices above. She never minded
often stroked my hair gently. Yes, Gramma, I remember – Lillian Marie.

Warm afternoon after Thanksgiving meal
sitting in the bay window with my toy box.
Outside a bird, a robin perched on the icy gate swung open,
crushed against the trellis where honeysuckle climbs in Spring
flower to lick sweet and birdy looks hungry.
Why are you crying, little man? Come here. What are you looking at?
The birdie? Why won’t you stop crying? You have all your nice toys.”
A man said, “Leave him be. Kids cry. That’s what they do.
You spoil them if you pick them up every time they cry.”

The door between the kitchen and dining room swings open;
“I’ll be finished soon then he’ll have his nap. You two go relax.”

The gate was supposed to be closed, not smashed up against the vine.
Someone should close the gate!
The honeysuckle will be smashed and broken
there will be no sweet in Spring
she will be furious if someone doesn’t close the gate
“Fly away birdie! Fly away!” I scream.

I look out over Maplewood through the torn shade
Catholic churches and the bulky industry of the forties
stand where once vast groves of maple pine poplar & cherry grew.
The rust colored leaves of McMullin’s sappy maple loose their grip
on the parched branches waiting for rain

beyond Albemarle & Clay streets further out away
down Dewey Avenue the structures diminish into flatland
ending at the shore of Lake Ontario. One steel smokestack
at Kopdak Park on Ridge Road snatches the last glint of the sinking sun
vomits white steam hot cold joining as darkness approaches,
from After Many Years Absent & Other Poems - M. Hannan © 1993

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