Parents

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My father asks me how I stand it all,
The work, the debts, the spite. My mother talks
As though I were a famous man and yet
Unguarded somehow, too fragile to touch.
It’s their needs, not mine, that flutter here
In the questions and the anecdotes. I stare
At the rust encroaching on the walnut branches
Or the pile of litter where the biggest pine tree
Used to stand, before my absence killed it.
Their door has a vine over it; they murmur
Endearments to the animals, and cry
At small wrongs. Which is the oldest of us three?

Facts sound like charges. The least important man
Is a legend in his neighbour’s living room,
Menacing and remarkable as the lightning
That ran from tree to tree about the house
So lately, like the shining of its ghosts.
I nod, but the names, perils, dates mean nothing,
And where that’s true, the deepest bonds are lost.
How will the vine bear this year? I feel
My heart growing till my thoughts are hoarse
And the old branches pick at the heap of leavings.
There is so much I don’t recall. They stand,
Timid, waving to watch me go, barely
Visible in the window’s copper sheen.

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