Backward, turn backward O Time, in your flight.
              Make me a child again, just for to-night! – Allen 1832-1911

 Mother chanted Allen’s words like telling beads
threaded through with how her baby sister died
from polio that summer and she sat out the endless
emptiness on the cellar door listening to her mother’s
silence filling the high ceilinged kitchen, hearing
the huff of her father’s cigar when he came home as
usual from the lumberyard, right past where
she dropped honeysuckle blossoms onto the other
emptiness around her brothers and sister.

Nothing led me then to want to return
to the giraffe that grew beside the sandbox
south of the apple tree at another house so far
away, nor to remember how we used a whole
box of waxed paper once to slicken the ride
or that there’s even a couple pictures of my cousins
clinging to the ladder between its knobby knees
to prove that it happened at all, that mother
of the child lost to polio balancing a peacock
feathered hat above a rare smile while
my own mother clutched the edge.

After my father left, too soon it was just
a solitary trip down hot metal, a sticky spiraling.
Spots flaked off beneath unrelenting rain
to shatter into black shards, legs giving way
to gravity, the long-necked sinking into mud.

I’ve blocked out what my brothers did
with the twisted parts, still trying to erase
her mantra echoing into the void
of my brother’s passing one April morning.
How my father came back to walk the parking lot
just as the sun came up through the smoke
billowing from the hospital’s red brick stack,
how we spoke of that giraffe as if there was
not death inside, the two of us sure of only one thing:
there was no going back up the slide.