I don’t see my mother dancing—
in my thoughts she still trims vines
sprayed blue with copper sulfate
for her two bags of wheat, eight bushels rye.
I don’t know if her young face
was lovely, if the other tenants
admired her dragonfly form,
or if my blonde father tethered his horse only
at our cabin on the wild Whitsun ride.
I just see her in the wintry dawn
chopping cornstalks at the stove
or patching sacks in the stilled yard;
I see her at evening in the vineyard
secretly taking flowers for my dead father.
Such memories pour over me,
and whirl me round fiercely now—
my mother, whom none could help,
in the darkness of whose fiesh
the cancer spread its deadly arms,
who left her son this legacy.
This is not to blame her; not one curse
ever left her lips, I know. . . . Only, poverty
took it all from her vein-roped hands.
Half a day she walked to find me, a hand
at some far-off farm, bringing me her spared potatoes,
spending her scant savings on my studies;
and when I scanned my first lines
at the window something silvery
glowed in her eyes—joy.
And then she was gone, never to see
the first book. I could thrust no money
secretly beneath her bolster, for a dress, for salt—
her bones in the graveyard
moldered to fat silent clay; no flowers force their roots
in summer where her forehead used to be.
And I carry her legacy for good:
on my face the mark of sorrow,
in myself humility’s soundless load;
until I die I shall not forget
that world of grinding poverty—
in the field we are walking
like yoked horses together forever.