by Mary Oliver
Our neighbor, tall and blonde and vigorous, the mother
of many children, is sick. We did not know she was sick,
but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman
who is balancing a sword inside of her body, and besides
that her long hair is gone, it is short and, suddenly, gray.
I don’t recognize her. It even occurs to me that it might
be her mother. But it’s her own laughter-edged voice,
we have heard it for years over the hedges.
All summer the children, grown now and some of them
with children of their own, come to visit. They swim,
they go for long walks at the harbor, they make
dinner for twelve, for fifteen, for twenty. In the early
morning two daughters come to the garden and slowly
go through the precise and silent gestures of T’ai Chi.
They all smile. Their father smiles too, and builds
castles on the shore with the children, and drives back to
the city, and drives back to the country. A carpenter is
hired—a roof repaired, a porch rebuilt. Everything that can be fixed.
June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter. I
think of the painting by van Gogh, the man in the chair.
Everything wrong, and nowhere to go. His hands over his eyes.