Is it Still There
The home that warmed you after that winter trip
downstate from Canadian border where Catholic charities
hoarded babies for those without to pick like flowers.
The small, blue house with a thin roof and windows
creaks and whistles, chilling the workroom
cabinets your father built to store memories.
The cherry china closet in the dining room,
where your mother’s Polish tchotchkes stand
among her finest dishes, an homage to her orderliness.
He, a woodworker, she, a nurse, took you and the boy
when you were just toddlers. Though you shared
no blood, you became one another’s keepers.
Family portrait: your brother’s dark curls
so contrast your blonde waves,
and your mother’s deep chestnut coif.
You are only a teenager here, posed
in a blue dress to match your eyes,
but soon you’d be kicked out of the picture.
But brother was the one they could not keep for long:
He fled in his twenties unexpectedly hemorrhaging
under his skull; no one anticipated aneurysm.
Now, in your fifties you live alone,
having survived the war of parentlessness twice,
one more thing we have in common.
But the burden of the house–leaks feeding foreclosure
in an IV drip, stretch marked cement steps
pregnant with ice–is too much labor.
When the snow comes to blanket us in its quiet,
everything is still:
Water hangs mid-air from gutters.
Sharp-edged and glittering winter wears woe
like some silent film star. She’s all contrasts:
Withering and convalescent.
What you mean to ask is not if the house
still stands to her elements, not if it can
distill life, eternally serve to memorialize.
For all that you’ve lost is greater than this,
one small, blue house that cannot hold
your father’s last incoherent words,
your mother’s latkes, alongside her advice
to offer me to those without to be picked like a flower,
the way she and your father picked you and your brother.
What you mean to ask but cannot is this:
Am I still here if I cannot be within those walls,
without the only ones I have known as my own.
Dec. 2015-March 2016