Mrs. Duane Krauss, sure of her solitude,
grimaced between the kitchen alcove’s cryptic
lesser motifs of Elvis and Saint Jude,
herself the central subject of the triptych:
her young-old country cheeks and looming bust,
the timely smile, gathered around a lie.
She called me “dear,” she bowed, she briefly fussed,
then turned to pat her mother’s china dry.

I did my part. I showed how bright I was,
how self-assured. But I lacked common sense.
Even the dogs there knew—and not because
she humbled them with cozy sentiments—
that friends, not being family, not quite,
keep out of trouble and keep out of sight.

                         * * *

Across the white hill swallows fanned and scattered,
drawing my eye along till I could see
atop the hill—tilted and mossy, flattered
by early sun—an old barn, tempting me.
Morning to suppertime not much else mattered.
They must’ve known. I wanted them to know.
Morning to suppertime their still den chattered
with Meet the Press and Christian radio.

Patient, I watched the barn’s roof simplify
to silhouette, and the hillside’s azure glow
pass, as the night retuned my errant eye,
to static white, the white of moonlit snow,
while those four faces I’ve not seen again
kept to the borrowed twilight of the den.

                         * * *

One face there, bright as ripening persimmon,
still a bit bitter, seldom looked at me:
that quiet Vater stooped amid his women,
who let his lenses flash for privacy.
High in the shadow of a naked rafter,
his stuffed barn owl outspread its furious wings,
a household daemon to discourage laughter,
unnecessary talk, and touching things.

                         * * *

Mother, my young, my beautiful rescuer!—
so late, so long, I might be waiting still,
my pure heart wondering always where you were,
if not for those four strangers on their hill,
who, loath to form a fair impression of me,
simply did not, as you must always, love me.



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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 4, on page 36
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