Thirty years ago I joined the Connecticut Writing Project and haven’t recovered yet. Since then, I've tendered my drafts almost monthly in a writing group of other recovering CWP teachers. There’s a closeness among us we get nowhere else, as we share bits and pieces of our lives — our trials with truculent pianos, unpredictable children, and failing parents. Part is honing our craft, part is shaping our experiences, part is understanding who we are.
we were to hide the can of pears
beneath the bedding in the basement
where maybe a dozen families lived with
a handful of strangers, sheltered
from the bombing.
And how foolish!
To hide the pears from our liberators —
gaunt bearded Russians who festooned
their arms with our watches, adorned
their fingers with our wedding rings
then turned their eyes on me, at fourteen
too young even to understand
their glances, their captain’s nod.
But how wise
that elegant whore who knew just enough
Russian, flattered the captain, and led
each of the men . . . six, seven, eight . . .
into the darkest part of the cellar where
I would never go, where years later
I would never have to dwell with my husband
my three daughters, my two sons.
Exchange of Gifts
On Christmas Day, wraith-like she
appears and re-appears every hour
or two, making the long journey from
the bed in Colette’s bedroom to the
chair in the parlor. She points to her
daughter, explaining to me, “That’s
Margie,” as if to say, “In case you
don’t remember. Your sister.”
Then back to bed. The question
none of us asks hangs in the air. Instead,
we sit in a circle, and one at a time hand-
deliver the presents we, for all intents
and purposes, bought for ourselves,
brand names and sizes e-mailed
long in advance.
In bed, she lies with eyes awake
to the ceiling. I sit beside her, talking
in a voice too low for her to hear much,
if anything. Still, my hands stroke her arms,
play with the fineness of her hair. It isn’t much,
but enough to spark a moment of clarity:
“You’re a good boy,” she says, and releasing me,
directs: “Go, do what you have to do.”
©2016 William McCarthy
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