I’ve known her since I was a kid;
she visited me from the beginning.
We sat under the table and she told me
stories: my mother was going to die,
the blister on my heel would kill me
as dead as Calvin Coolidge’s son.
She told me thunder was demons
hammering nails into my ears,
that cave bears lived in the cellar,
tigers behind every clump of grass.
Once when I was ten
and learned at last that parents
she ran away with me
to the field behind our house.
We sat in the grass
under a thorn tree.
There’s no one
we can depend on, she whispered.
Now we have to handle everything.
She liked the English teacher
we had when we were seventeen.
We loved Salinger, Dylan Thomas, Chaucer,
Hayakawa and Shaw. We smoked filtered cigarettes
and tore the bottom hems from our jeans.
We walked the railroad tracks all around town.
We taught ourself to play guitar.
We wrote obscure poetry and decided
we were an existentialist
even though we weren’t quite sure
what that meant.
Somehow, I persisted,
and even though I was brave
enough to marry, still she hung around,
telling her tales:
Your husband will crash that jet he flies.
Your baby will get sick.
Sometimes she convinced me
that I wouldn’t live to see
my baby grow up. She was always
too thin, twiddled her hair, drummed
fingers, wrung her hands, picked
at scabs, picked at food. A hard
V was furrowed in between her eyes.
She stayed up late watching Hitchcock
films or reading trashy books about conspiracies.
She’s wired hard into the almond
deep inside my brain.
Over the years, I’ve taught her to behave.
Shut up, I say when she starts in
on her morbid list. I’ve made it this far.
I’ve been married to that man for forty years.
The baby has a wife and owns a house.
Mom and Dad are dead, and I’m still here.
She crawls back under the table then,
grumbling something about getting deaf.
I know she’ll never leave.