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Families

Susan Glickman
From:   Henry Moore's Sheep. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1990.


Once at the breakfast table when that harsh bitching
that passes for a stab but is really more like sawing away
with a rusty breadknife, leaving a jaggedy scar,
passed as usual in those days between my mother
and me my father began to cry
into his cornflakes. Big round tears for the lost family
on the cereal box; the one that was supposed to come
with the yellow breakfast-nook, the apple-tree
out back. Only one tree, our neighbour's, dropping its fruit
over the fence. Generous, but not big enough
to hide in, so there was nowhere to shelter, no option
but escape. But Dad had his job, his car, his sense of humour;
deep down hadn't he always known there was
nowhere else to go? That a family only keeps smiling
in photographs and even there
someone's always out of focus. Him, for example;
his eyes inevitably shut, as though caught by chance
between blinks, when really, it was a reflex, like sneezing.
He could smile or keep his eyes open--but not both.

I could make that a metaphor I guess, or quote Tolstoy in
Anna Karenina, but happiness in families is also complex
and not to be sneezed at. The problem is more with the way
we apprehend feelings in time. Sadness is so slow, a mule with
split hooves, picking its way over stone. Joy,
in this ratio, a 40's convertible, his first car,
speeding down green summer roads to a doo-wop refrain.
That is, when you're happy you don't have to know all the words,
humming along does just fine. But grief,
grief makes us all precisions, analyzing each other
to death: You failed me, and this is exactly how.

Meanwhile, the evidence of our honourable if partial success
piles up--all those turkeys, ribbons, pots of flowers.
In their albums the smiles brave out our disregard,
bleaching a little with the years like the cedar dock down
at the lake, that worn path between the house
and the silent water: between what contains the family
and what it keeps them from. Lying on that dock with eyes closed
I told my mother all about you before we were married,
when I still wasn't sure; some of the old harshness in my voice
because I wanted or expected her to tell me not
to do it, to tell me the pains were more real
than the joy. But she didn't.
No one could save me from my own
trip down that road; no one wanted to.
And so I jumped off the split grey boards into the reflections
of trees and clouds and swam away very fast from that house
to this one, into a new family. Eyes wide open,
but under water.



Susan Glickman's works copyright © to the author.


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