The level of detail stored in our memories about our parents and our parents’ parents is truly remarkable. Pick up an old family photo. See where it takes you. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Try it.
That you were wearing a dress at a picnic
did not startle me.
It was that you were there at all,
grey cotton scarf pinned neatly around your neck
as usual, to keep out the draft.
You wore your comfortable brown shoes
because your ankles were swollen.
It was July.
You were not unwelcome, I assure you,
but you were supposed to be gone,
and I am supposed to remember you
in all the comfortable places:
Lunch on Sundays,
tomato soup and grilled cheese,
talk of school, mom’s work, old Aunt Hazel.
If I moved just right the kitchen chair would squeak
and I would giggle and look away
from the handkerchief around your neck,
where something bad happened to you
many years before.
I picture you happy in your garden,
with the corn and tomatoes in neat rows,
and the strawberries run amuck.
And I see you in your ’75 Dodge Dart,
driving straight and sure through
the streets of Lansingburgh,
your last car which I inherited
as my first car when you were gone.
That’s how I should remember you,
but there is one picture of you
I try to hide from myself,
the one of you, but not really you,
half you on a hospital bed,
greyer than your cotton scarf
that no longer hid the hole in your neck.
That is my last and smallest picture of you,
besides the flowers, and old women
with too much perfume, weeping quite realistically.
So seeing you today at the picnic
near the young maple that I had planted
behind our house on Amelia Drive,
next to Danny with the kitten Smokey
and cousin Joe with his music on the chaise,
it all seemed wrong somehow,
like an old movie with the sound off
a half beat.
My husband’s touch on my shoulder
brought me back to now.
I dropped the photo from twenty years past.
There is one other thing I hide from myself:
Of all the pictures, tastes, sounds
that are your memory,
I cannot recall saying I love you.
You were so sure of Springtime, and God,
and three square meals. Surely
you must have known this small thing.