Cathryn Essinger

A Leap in Time

for Levin, who asked, Grandma, if
I become invisible, will time hold still?


Fifty is cold, my mother said, handing me
a sweater I did not want.  Nothing prophetic


in her words, just a mother's timely remark.
And yet, the phrase became my reference point


regardless of where I lived.  Fifty was cold in
North Carolina, Kansas, and Nebraska;


still cold when I moved to Texas and Tennessee. 
Little did I know that words can alter time,


that the past can ride its way into the future,
like a burr clinging to the hem of your coat. 


Never mind that I can no longer recall the town,
or if there was a school bus waiting at the curb. 


But if memory falters, does it really matter?
Doesn't the present still unravel around us,


tugging at the past, pushing into the future?
Today, I remind my grandson that fifty is cold


and hand him a jacket he doesn't want to wear.
He grins, pulls it on anyway, and then spreads


his arms wide as he leaps from the porch, so
the wind can lift the coat away from his body,


carry him into that space between past and present
where he can slip, almost unseen, into thin air.


On My Son’s 40th Birthday

My father and I are sharing a drink
while the birthday boy is lamenting
lost opportunities, his misspent youth,


but Dad and I honor another celebration—
three grandsons now, past the age
of military service, the draft and lottery.  


No lump in the throat when your birthday
is called, no college deferments, no bodies
on beaches, fear of  napalm, or sweethearts


left behind. My parents were engaged through-
out the War, my father refusing to marry,
for fear of leaving his wife a widow.


When her first grandson was born, my mother
pronounced him perfect in every way,
and then confessed she had hoped for a girl,


so we wouldn't have to worry about a draft.
Even now, well into her 90’s, memory slipping,
she asks, Who is this man who is running


for President? Will he take us into a war?
I reassure her that our country is “at peace,”
and yet I know, somewhere, even  today,


some mother has given birth to a son, and she is
afraid for him, afraid that someone has designs
on his beautiful limbs, his perfect sleeping face. 


I pour a drink for all of the mothers who celebrate
this day, and another for my aging son, to remind
him that he still has his whole life ahead of him.


Cathryn Essinger is the author of five books of poetry—most recently The Apricot and the Moon and Wings, Or Does the Caterpillar Dream of Flight?, both released this year  from Dos Madres Press. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The New England Review, The Antioch Review, Rattle, River Styx, and other journals. They have been nominated for Pushcarts and “Best of the Net,” featured on The Writer’s Almanac, and reprinted in American Life in Poetry.  She was Ohio’s Poet of the Year in 2005 when she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.

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