“You always think the worst
is going to happen,” Janet says
as we walk with our son along the Amsterdam canals.
“What do you think—he’s going to fall in and drown?”
I have worried
all over the world. It comes to me easily.
Formed slowly through childhood
like stalactites in a cave.
My mother worried to keep going—
a sick husband, the store, children
she wanted everything for. I call her
distraught. Janet’s been dizzy for days.
In the E.R. they inked small x’s
on the parchment map of her skin.
Her doctor’s at a conference in Paris,
and I’m afraid there’s a blood clot near her brain.
“Go buy a plant,” she says. “I’m not going to die.”
My mother tells me I learned it from her—
how to panic. She was thirteen,
oldest of five, when her father left.
My grandmother worried to keep food
on the table. Every week
she’d board the bus to buy
dry goods, children’s clothes, socks
to sell in her corner store.
When she didn’t climb down
from the six o’clock—winter,
it was already dark—my mother sat
in the window, tears rumpling her face,
praying, Let her come home.
And in Russia—my father was a baby
when his mother carried him and two brothers
to the border. Hiding
in the forest undergrowth, my father
crying, she heard boots
bite through the crusted snow. Some women
smothered infants. What must have gone
through her mind when the steps hesitated,
before turning away?
Janet doesn’t think about what
might happen. She thinks about what is.
But I carry dread on my shoulders
like a knapsack, like the extra pounds
my grandmother wanted me to gain.
She’d read about a girl in a plane crash.
All she had to eat was snow.
Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2002
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.