on the playgrounds of st. francis elementary
BY MICHAEL GOULD
First-graders hurdle moon-blue rhinos
to chase dragonflies that smell of pine needles
& wind. All the swings have holes in the seats.
I call it improved aerodynamics & take advantage.
Skecher soles flush with sky, I split the air as I
imagine God’s truth does, while below me
my year-old daughter mumbles good morning
to the earthworm wound between her toes. Only
it’s more than a greeting, this song,
this river of liquids & glides—
better to call it a babbled hymn,
an offering to the world of sunlight
& mud, a whisper born from breath
where language does not yet live.
* * *
I’m in the memory ward
of the downtown VA, laying
my bouquet on the nightstand
and sitting beside my mother
on the edge of the unmade bed.
Filtered light. Drawn blinds. Her breath
a thread of warmth unfurling
as she furrows her brow
at her granddaughter
squirming silent in my arms.
This evening, we talk about what
my mother’s language allows us—
only her most practiced concerns:
my father, fried catfish & jazz.
The house I grew up in.
Tuscaloosa. Corner lot. The way
summer rain battered the lawn
like quarter notes
spilled from Coltrane’s golden bell
as our dog Brantley ran circles in the tulips,
leaping in the air to bite at the wet music.
Even if it didn’t happen like this I’ll say
it did. Later, after my mother has fallen
asleep, I think back to a story
she told me as a child.
(We were walking a creek’s edge in fog
the morning after her youngest niece’s wake):
In an instance of perceived weightlessness, she began,
skipping a stone that would vanish
before it hit the water a second time,
the mind renders the body a myth
it no longer requires. This happens
on a swing set, the moment
you stop your ascent,
before you begin to fall.