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SAFE
K.M.S. 1948-1986


by Linda Gregerson




audioear picture Hear Linda Gregerson read this poem (in RealAudio).

(For help, see a note about the audio.)

Also by Linda Gregerson:
Target (1996)
For the Taking (1993)

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The tendons sewn together and the small bones
healed, that your hand
might close on a pencil again

or hold a cup. The delicate muscles made
whole again,
to lift your eyelid and govern your smile,

and the nerves new-laid in their tracks.
The broken
point of the kitchen knife -- and here

let the surgeon be gentle -- removed and the skull
knit closed
and the blood lifted out of the carpet and washed

from the stairs. And the nineteen-year-old burglar returned
to the cradle or
his mother's arms -- he must have been harmless

once, even he, who is not sorry, had
nothing
to lose, and will never be harmless again.

. . .

Emma is learning to wield her own spoon --
silver for abundance,
though it seldom finds her mouth as yet.

She hates to be fed, would rather starve,
but loves
to steer the precarious course herself.

Silver for pride, then, or luck of the sort
some children
are born with, omitting

the manifold slippage
that separates
privilege and weal. Luck in this popular figure

is three parts silver anyway,
that the child
not succumb to crack in the schoolyard,

rats in the hall, the clever fence with a
shopping list,
bad plumbing, bad food, and hatred-on-a-staircase

with a knife in hand and dim designs
on jewelry
or a VCR. The spoon was superfluity --

the best part of your paycheck for a child
you haven't lived
to see. Friend, her cheek is fresh as hope

of paradise. And every passing minute in the hours
of light
and the hours of darkness, in the fever

of pneumonia or the ignorant sweet wash
of health,
the miraculous breath

moves into her lungs, and stitch
by mortal
stitch, moves out.

. . .

When the paramedics came at last, my friend
apologized:
she must have hit her head, she thought,

she'd just take a minute to mop up the mess
by the phone.
Her broken hands, for which

the flaw in memory had provided no such
alibi,
her broken hands had kept him two or

three times from her face.
And later
when the anesthesiologist had

launched her on his good green gas
and launched her,
as they do sometimes, a shade too fast,

she slipped the bonds of recall altogether.
Safe
as houses. You know what a house is for the likes

of us: down payment on the nursing home,
our four-square
pledge to be debtors of conscience, if debtors

in conscience may not look too closely
where credit's
refused. Our piece of the here for here-

after, which shows us diminished regard
and just
such a face as fear has made:

one night a woman came home to her house
and locked its useless
locks, and buttoned her nightdress and read

for a while, and slept till she was wakened.



Copyright © 1990 by Linda Gregerson. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly, March 1990.

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