Clara, My Unconceived
Clara, my unconceived, my childhood's last-
and-never daughter, hostage from the past,
what grief has so disarmed you that both hands
have dropped, inert? I find two rubber bands,
a crochet hook, carefully thread them through
holes that shed scant light on the heart of you,
arm you again to deal with a hard world.
A better mother would have kept you curled,
minutely shod and stockinged, prim in white:
this auburn tangle says all is not right,
as do your naked toes and faded dress.
We have not stayed in touch, and I confess
the fault is mine, who earlier loved you so,
more than half of this century ago.
I did not know your not-quite-father then,
who froze in foxholes in the deep Ardennes
while I did long division, learned to cook
and worked on granny squares with this same hook.
When I named you, I had not chosen other
names for your first and second brother,
who would replace you and absorb my care,
thereafter focused on their skin and hair,
their appetites and baths and morning cries.
Poor Clara, from whose blue, unblinking eyes
I cannot hide the depth of my defection,
what issues you bring up for introspection!
Would we--this side of birth--have done our nails
together? Shopped the malls for summer sales,
trying on things we never meant to buy?
Would you have whispered stories of this guy
and that, of what was said with words and looks?
Would we have shared our work and traded books?
What's to be done with loves that keep themselves
safe, out of time, like you, on dusty shelves!
Permanent in your absence by those streams
we will not ford again except in dreams,
you lie here in my hand, unformed but whole,
like Sister Ada's rendering of the Soul,
whose vacancy, she said, was all its task.
She didn't tell us why. We didn't ask.
Where Horizons Go, Rhina Espaillat's second collection of poems,
won the 1997 T.S. Eliot Prize and was published by New Odyssey.