2012 Robert Frost Award - First Runner Up
Because we were getting old enough
our instructor took us to look at (not to touch)
some pictures grown men drew.
We tripped like new recruits through orderly rooms.
Some were sternly directed to carry their shoes
as we made our hushed advance. In the dim hall
we could hear a classmate whimpering
as she would whenever she felt too far from home.
Her tears a kind of prelude to the work itself:
Flowers in a Vase - more paint than flowers
whose stems arched away, whose poppies
bleated and sprayed yellow tears
on our starched uniforms, on the perfect walls.
All the way home, the yellow hung on our clothes.
The bus took us sluggishly along, and we felt the road
under its beefy wheels change to a luminous river of paint
and the trees gave up their souls in Autumn's clay glow.
I knew what it meant but not really.
So I took the stairs two by two for you, like any other day.
In my pocket, paintings on postcards, a stick of gum.
In the kitchen below, Dad had grown small beside the cakes
the ladies brought. He would not eat, he would not speak
to relatives in the hall, and the relatives awkwardly leaning
on end-tables like faded photos of themselves.
Mother was proud to find me at my prayers
and honoring the adults who were clearly "spent".
When she pressed her head to mine, I felt her hair
like fingers on my brow: a gesture she'd learned
from you, mother to mother, and was teaching me now.
And, this was "hard" and "each of us will have his own lament."
It took all I had to steady my temple to hers -
to keep my sorrow apart - as we planned
the next few hours: where the aunts would sleep
and who would order the flowers.