for Lois Ames, Sudbury, Massachusetts
Forgive me for telling this story
when you tell it so well – those cadences, pauses,
your intimacy with it, your white hair,
a descendant straight down the line.
You show us to our guest room
up the steep, wooden back stairs.
But first you stop by a deep fireplace.
No wonder you live here, hold to the house
and the house to you. Your grandfather
was a boy when he crept down those back stairs
and looked through the chinks in the panelling
and saw the firelight, black faces late at night,
runaways, gone in the early hours.
A tense stopping-station, the wagon hitched
to steal away to the next farm, all the way to Canada.
And the fireplace is still walk-in, pots and pans
blackened and hung. Your welcome to us
as I carry the suitcase up the stairs
in the oppression of an August night,
our little room at the top piled with books –
stories, poetry, journeys you take up,
inch by inch efforts you make now,
pain you feel constantly, the owl we listen for,
electric fan that lifts sweat from our faces.
It must have been winter then,
the faces wide-eyed in the firelight.
All night vertical blacknesses hold down farmland
and dew streams up in the morning, brash and blue,
up the screen door, broken breath of a horse
dragging the empty wagon home, stumbling whispers,
my boy on your doorstep, shucking corn in the sun
and you set the breakfast table, lay out
egg cups in your blue dressing gown, and we talk
and listen as old friends will and must,
and see a way, the many ways of telling it.