Too much pleasure in what you love.
—Edward Hirsch, “Gabriel”
With Arlo wheezing in his tiny railroad pajamas
I dream an engine is underneath us,
I thrum with his frightening breath. How
did my mother do this when she woke in the night
to find her infant son unconscious, 106 degrees, shimmer
of purple spots pulled from the dark? I know
I take too much pleasure in the sons I love,
and the daughter, and the Idareds heaped on the counter
in a certain light while the brilliant, complanate leaves
of the ginkgo loll on every sidewalk.
I want to believe in the pleasure until
I can’t. Here the mouth of dread stays unfastened
like a car door left ajar, the long trip down the mountain
to call an ambulance because we didn’t have a phone.
Arlo is only rasping but how tenderly
I remember my mother in that dark shadow
of illness; the hot water bottle of our one shared bed.
Thirty years later I still look for those spots in fever
and the guard in me rises at the first rattle
or wheeze. I can’t bear the fragility of this life—
not like the friend
who says why did I ever have children? but a longing sometimes
to disappear with them to where nothing will get us
like the old cartoons where one minute they’re lifting
to run, and the next
they’re just gone.
asleep under salt-white sheets
I remember the dead lamb
we found still warm
in the grass on Savage Island
the summer Amy and I rode
a three-wheeler over the undulating land
looking for the flock that left it there.
Amy taught me pragmatism
in a brute world. I was raised
by women gone wild from years
in the forest of motherhood
and duty. We lived
among the bloodroots and sugar maples,
the ardent maidenhair fern.
We weren’t beasts
exactly. But we stuck together,
poor and world-fearing, out of necessity.
Mother said if one of us had to leave
this earth, we would all go.