I’ve known the story since second grade,

that terrible year. The teacher checking

our fingernails and handkerchiefs,

teaching nothing but tedium. Gray

and marcelled, as chained as I 

to that small-town school.

The stench of hot-lunch goulash.

White bread spread thick with margarine.

The shallow patch of backlot gravel

where we tried to play. 


Reading was my happiness.

Sometimes I was allowed 

to sit on the windowsill with a book.

And where would I have found

such a thing in that barren place?

I can still see the drawing clearly—

the line of the girl’s dress,

the dragon’s orange flame.

And the prince—not St. George, I think—

but it was the same tale—

the monster demanding sacrifice, 

the unexpected release. 



How many relicts 

can fit in this room?

Books from my godmother.

A bowl of stones.

A shelf of bears and old dolls.

Boxes of letters.

Mother’s unlabeled photos.

Dad’s work gloves and hammer.

Tante Helen’s table.


Once upon a time,

a poster of all the books

a child should read:

Aesop’s Fables.  

Millions of Cats. 

Puck of Pook’s Hill. 

The Iliad for Boys and Girls.  

Dad made the frame the year I was born.

Now it hangs in my grandson’s room.


Mother gave me stories,

so many words.

Dad gave me his hands.

How can I be a grandmother already

when I remember so clearly

walking on my toes

holding my father’s hand,

and he dead

for how many years?