“A Moment Ago”

Click here to listen to Philip White read this poem.

We were out on the deck talking with mother,
watching the line of shadow climb the foothills,
intercepting the peaks around us one by one
as if the valley were a bowl being slowly filled
with darkness. She wore the blue cloth hat
with a flower, having just given up therapy.
We asked what she remembered of “little”
great-grandma and others we never knew.
It was hot. An afternoon storm had splotched
here and there the laurels, startling the swallows;
a dusty trickle had formed briefly in the throats
of the gutters. Mid-recollection, she paused.
When the day wears, she said, or when I begin to feel
too much for myself, I think of a song I heard
my mother sing I don’t know how many times
over the sink washing dishes, a child’s song,
and it lifts me.
It was some minutes later
that the leaves of the poplar began suddenly to rattle,
exactly as the leaves here in the darkening yard
ten years and two thousand miles away just did,
a harsh, dry sound like seeds shaken in a pod.
It is a brittle world. Over and over dusk
wells up in us; birds fly uncertainly overhead.