AS CHILDREN TOGETHER

Carolyn Forché

 

 

Under the sloped snow

pinned all winter with Christmas

lights, we waited for your father

to whittle his soap cakes

away, finish the whisky,

your mother to carry her coffee

from room to room closing lights

cubed in the snow at our feet.

Holding each other's

coat sleeves we slid down

the roads in our tight

black dresses, past

crystal swamps and the death

face of each dark house,

over the golden ice

of tobacco spit, the blue

quiet of ponds, with town

glowing behind the blind

white hills and a scant

snow ticking in the stars.

You hummed blanche comme

la neige and spoke of Montreal

where a québecoise could sing,

take any man's face

to her unfastened blouse

and wake to wine

on the bedside table.

I always believed this,

Victoria, that there might

be a way to get out.

 

You were ashamed of that house,

its round tins of surplus flour,

chipped beef and white beans,

relief checks and winter trips

that always ended in deer

tied stiff to the car rack,

the accordion breath of your uncles

down from the north, and what

you called the stupidity

of the Michigan French.

 

Your mirror grew ringed

with photos of servicemen

who had taken your breasts

in their hands, the buttons

of your blouses in their teeth,

who had given you the silk

tassles of their graduation,

jackets embroidered with dragons

from the Far East. You kept

the corks that had fired

from bottles over their beds,

their letters with each city

blackened, envelopes of hair

from their shaved heads.

 

I am going to have it, you said.

Flowers wrapped in paper from carts

in Montreal, a plane lifting out

of Detroit, a satin bed, a table

cluttered with bottles of scent.

 

So standing in a Platter of ice

outside a Catholic dance hall

you took their collars

in your fine chilled hands

and lied your age to adulthood.

 

I did not then have breasts of my own,

nor any letters from bootcamp

and when one of the men who had

gathered around you took my mouth

to his own there was nothing

other than the dance hall music

rising to the arms of iced trees.

 

I don't know where you are now, Victoria.

They say you have children, a trailer

in the snow near our town,

and the husband you found as a girl

returned from the Far East broken

cursing holy blood at the table

where nightly a pile of white shavings

is paid from the edge of his knife.

 

If you read this poem, write to me.

I have been to Paris since we parted.