Fall River at Midnight
Fireflies brighten the grass by the shore
as you pass under the low-hanging trees
in your father’s green aluminum boat
above the submerged farms and rock quarries;
setting the lines on the branches, the leaves
just skimming the surface, you navigate
through an alcove, then settle in between
the bait cooler and the motor to wait.
At times, you see a faint light reflected
from the lamp on a small school of minnows
like silver coins flipping end over end,
disappearing in the darkness below,
while your father gathers a large white net
and casts it out, as if making a bed.
I was buried beside an olive tree
with a lamp, three figs, and a loaf of bread.
I was never a mother, nor a wife,
my duties conferred to the sacred flame
to attend the vestal hearth in winter,
to bless the Tiber’s water with my palms,
and then relieve the burning in my palms.
The Sacred Way is just beyond this tree,
where my lovers visit every winter
to share my memory with leavened bread
and hold their blackened fingers to a flame.
I was never destined to be a wife
they knew they could not take me as a wife:
the random lots were held against my palms
and made my fingers curl into a flame
then open as a blossom on a tree.
My mother wept; my father gave me bread.
We walked to an empty house in winter
just beyond the Sacred Way in winter,
my dowry paid in full– not as a wife
but rather as a holy child, whose bread
had crumbled into ashes in her palms;
I watched him pass under the olive tree
bending low, as a hand cupped to a flame,
his body disappearing like a flame.
All the days of my twentieth winter
were marked through every season on this tree:
prescribed from vagaries of man and wife,
I rubbed its soothing oil between my palms
and gazed from windows when we made the bread,
when I crushed the grain into flour for bread.
I pressed bellows, bearing the oven’s flame
to watch the bodies grow between my palms,
rising from dust, hardening in winter.
I was never destined to be a wife,
to be embraced by lovers near this tree
or kiss their palms, which hold the leavened bread
before an olive tree; or lift a flame
to see their winter eyes expect a wife.