Old Song

She didn't know, couldn't have
my mother
that the singing as we washed dishes
in the darkening New England nights
were part of all I am or will be.
The words she sang, sing now.

Those windows looked out on
a world cold and fierce.
Trouble was out there
the frost told me.
I'd find it soon enough.
but now belly filled
with boiled meat and cabbage
in her song I was
the only boy in the world
with nothing to bother you.

The man I became in the world
(her only boy still and forever)
had to do what he had to do.
Oh there are some who cling
to mothers the rest of their lives
mothers who do the same.
We were none of these.
Step by step we went our separate ways
her boy in the world prowling
the drunken dark of cities
herself holed-up in damp Rhode Island rooms
as condos inches along side
and the last of the elm trees died.

First tree of my childhood. Young
mother. Youngest son.
Both too proud for rescue.
And distances geographic and fine
we never closed.
Never found a comfortable way either
to abandon ourselves
to passionate strangers.
We sheltered feelings
the only way we could:
words squirreled against the night.

Mother, what I need to say
these days I can.
Life has made some fairly intricate moves.
I've gone beyond those childhood trees
and say this with the weight of years:
Your favorite line in the song is true:
the only girl in the world
was you.

"Old Song" © copyright 1998 by Michael Hogan. Reprinted from Imperfect Geographies (Q-Trips, 1998).