The Last Day You Were A Child

If I gave you a mouse
the last day of your childhood
and told you its whiskers
were my father’s,
its eyes your mother’s mother’s,
its fur the manes
of the horses that pulled
their wagons through Poland’s swamps,
would you press it to your heart
and stroke its fur?
Would you wish instead
I’d given you something shiny?

My father kept
his suicide a secret
until he guessed me
old enough and able
to guide his hopeless fingers
through its knots.
My mother, before I knew her,
tried to change the world.
Later, to make amends,
she embraced despair.

No one tells children the truth.
But you come from them,
these distant dead—you can’t walk
around the block
without spilling their secrets—
even though you were never
properly introduced.

Stroke its fur and watch
its timid whiskers
cease to quiver.

Hold it close
as you step
into this world.

From Cemetery Compost