Winter winds cold and blea
Chilly blows o’er the lea:
Wander not out to me,
Jenny so fair,
Wait in thy cottage free.
I will be there.
Wait in thy cushioned chair
Wi’ thy white bosom bare.
Kisses are sweetest there:
Leave it for me.
Free from the chilly air
I will meet thee.
How sweet can courting prove,
How can I kiss my love
Muffled in hat and glove
From the chill air?
Quaking beneath the grove,
What love is there!
Lay by thy woollen vest,
Drape no cloak o’er thy breast:
Where my hand oft hath pressed,
Pin nothing there:
Where my head droops to rest,
Leave its bed bare.
Trying to tie my shoes, clumsy, not able to work out
the logic of it, fumbling, as my father stands there,
his anger growing over a son who can’t even do
this simplest thing for the first time, can’t even manage
the knot to keep his shoes on—You think someone’s
going to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life?—
No, I answer, forty-five years later, tying my shoe,
hands trembling with this memory. My father
and all those years of childhood not being able to work out
how he loved me, a knot so tight it has taken all my life
You’re alone. Then there’s a knock
On the door. It’s a word. You
Bring it in. Things go
OK for a while. But this word
Has relatives. Soon
They turn up. None of them work.
They sleep on the floor, and they steal
Your tennis shoes.
You started it; you weren’t
Content to leave things alone.
Now the den is a mess, and the
Remote is gone.
That’s what being married
Is like! You never receive your
Wife only, but the
Madness of her family.
Now see what’s happened?
Where is your car? You won’t
Be able to find
The keys for a week.
Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the corner of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I turn
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.
After we picked you up at the Omaha airport,
we clamped you into a new car seat
and listened to you yowl
beneath the streetlights of Nebraska.
Our hotel suite was plump with toys,
ready, we hoped, to soothe you into America.
But for a solid hour you watched the door,
shrieking, Umma, the Korean word for mother.
Once or twice you glanced back at us
and, in this netherworld where a door home
had slammed shut forever, your terrified eyes
paced between the past and the future.
Umma, you screamed, Umma!
But your foster mother back in Seoul never appeared.
Your new mother and I lay on the bed,
cooing your birth name,
until, at last, you collapsed into our arms.
In time, even terror must yield to sleep.
If you were a scoop of vanilla
And I were the cone where you sat,
If you were a slowly pitched baseball
And I were the swing of a bat,
If you were a shiny new fishhook
And I were a bucket of worms,
If we were a pin and a pincushion,
We might be on intimate terms.
If you were a plate of spaghetti
And I were your piping-hot sauce,
We’d not even need to write letters
To put our affection across,
But you’re just a piece of red ribbon
In the beard of a Balinese goat
And I’m a New Jersey mosquito.
I guess we’ll stay slightly remote.