Here I sit on a cloudy Thursday morning
untangling the strings of a marionette
my son set in my lap with full confidence
I’d get the job done.
From his closed room come young voices
high-pitched, rapid, like birds at dawn
his two small cousins, set also in my lap to untangle
from the slack skeins of their parents’ dozing care.
I was the oldest, the children all were mine
the children of my mother and the children of her friends.
I made the sandwiches, pushed the swings
brushed out the snarled braids.
I read the stories in steamy bathrooms and crowded beds
leaving wet footprints that led from one to the other
to evaporate unaided.
My brother and sister, grown, bring me their kids
as they once brought runny noses, broken skates.
They do not wonder
if I am as sure as I appear.
The heavy puppet head lolls against my knees,
patience painted on its face like beggar’s mask.
By now the children have forgotten
tumbled on to other games, cruder toys of molded plastic
with detachable parts.
Still, I keep at my task, fingers splayed to sort the strings
retie them to the cross-bar at the right helm spots.
Pinocchio wanted to be real
move in new ways, step aside when he wished
rest in a wooden heap where he willed.
I, too, want to trade patina for flawed flesh
shrug, block-headed, once in a while
before forlorn requests and unlaced needs.
My son returns to see how I am doing.
I let him take the puppet half-strung, askew
do not protest Wait, wait
I can do it, I can make it right,
though the words push inside my head
my reminiscent lap like flattened grass
where deer have lain the night.
“Strings” was published in the journal A Wise Woman’s Garden, Racine, WI, 1997 and in the anthology Family Matters, Bottom Dog Press, Huron, OH, 2005.