Memories disproportionately deep,
etched before education assured me
of finer, more important things to come.
Every room and recess, every space of childhood ground
carried its load of fierce remembrance.
Backstairs and sliding doors, vestibule, pantry, porch,
though sixty years abandoned,
still the mis en scene of an old man’s dreams;
to this day the setting for any novel
too lazy to offer me its own.
There I had fine moments to be sure:
at eight, wondering at the window
as flakes fell fat on the eve of Christmas Eve;
or sailing in sheer daring a cowboy hat
out over adults assembled,
down square on roast beef brazen,
dropped neatly beneath a father’s upraised knife.
Indelible too the losses suffered in that house.
Cries and curses leaking under bedroom doors;
a father policeman-propped and stuporous
in the half light of the porch;
a mother telling consequential truths
across a black-chipped kitchen tabletop,
driving words like stakes
into father, future, me.
Worst a night near childhood’s end:
parents squared in silhouette,
a dumb show of boxing shadows in the upstairs hall.
She parries blow on clumsy blow,
staggers, sinks and strikes
in perfect prostrate stillness
an impossible tableau
(father, backlit, a bending arc above).
At the stairs’ top step, the audience of one,
scrawny blue-eyed boy of ten,
drinks the scene’s full poison in
and turning breaks in terror
to the landing just below.
Six decades of busy life
now lie between that night and me,
Yet with photographic clarity
I see (as waking sweating from a dream)
that rose-pattern stained-glass window,
and all its tracery of lead,
into which I emptied then
a single piercing scream.