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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Return Trip

Have I told you,

     what my mother used to do,

               at night?

No. Tell me.

She’d come sit on the edge of

     my bed and stroke my hair, or hold my hand,

               and we’d talk.

The bus bounced and he said that sounded nice;

     yes, I said, it did, my voice distant even to myself.

The western sky had flared when we

pulled out of Sacramento; now

we drove into the dark that gathered there.

     We could not catch the light.

Staring out the wide side window at the darkness, I talked

     about my mother and her

               mother-daughter talks.

She’d ask what I’d been reading, doing,

     thinking, what my friends said, and what I thought

               of this one, or of that—

I’d say a little, answer a question, and there would be another,

     as though she wanted to get inside my brain and

     cruise the scenery, pluck a flower here or readjust

     the angle of a picture

               on the wall of my mind.

What I told her always came back at me,

twisted; I’d hear her through the screen door, sitting on the porch,

telling what I’d said, or she’d try to chuckle with me

about what I’d said the year before—

When I was twelve I told her I’d ride my bike past

     one boy’s house—“Who?” she asked, elbow in my ribs,

all girlish curiosity; “Who is it?” but I squirmed away, for now.

“So, you ride your bike over—does he meet you?”

Nothing so wonderful, I confessed; I’d look up at his window.

Later that week, when I wanted to go out one evening, she said,

“So you can go stare up at some boy’s window? No, missy,

     I’m afraid not. And you never did tell me his name.”

I never would, I swore, silently, to myself.

Cory, in the seat beside me, stirred. “So,

what was it, a sort of deal she made?

Your secrets for her love?”

“That’s it close enough,” I said.

“No wonder,” he said, “you told her my story.”

Of course. I’d so nearly traded his love for hers.

“What about Andy? But he was a boy.”

“Yes, but not exempt.”

She visited his bed too, and I

     would hear their voices, his going on and on—

     what was he telling her?

Nothing, he said, but in large doses. “You can listen,

     if you want,” an invitation from the Garden’s latter days, I think.

From the hall floor by his not-quite-closed door, I learned

     a girl named Nancy had smiled at him in class,

     and he might ask her to the dance;

     she liked plaid dresses, and wore a bow in her hair.

Slithering back to my room, I could not decide:

     was I the serpent, then? Surely I’d just learned

               corruption, once again.

“There’s no Nancy in your class!” I hissed

     in the kitchen next morning.

He took a mouthful of cereal. “So?”

“You’re lying!”

He sighed. “Look, it’s the only way too keep her happy.

You know how she’s always bugging you, Linda —just

     give her what she wants. I give her a girl with a name and a plaid dress,

     and she leaves me alone.”

Thus did my thirteen-year old brother advise me.

“So he lied? Regularly? To his mother?”

“Yes.”

“That’s slimy.”

“He always had a knack,” I said, “for wriggling out of things.”

“I suppose I lied about little stuff,

     all kids do. But anything important, I would never lie

     to my mother, or my father.”

“Well, he did. And she let him.”

“You think she knew?”

“How could she not?”

“So they both lied, in a way.”

“Yes.”

Outside the window now, the land was wholly dark;

the window give us back only ourselves,

     dimly,

               and distorted.

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