Miriam C. Jacobs
It is May, and cold in Baltimore. I am eleven years old.
My mother has just given the toss to my savings of colorful M&Ms.
If it is not raining, I take my bike out and spend hours
high in the branches of the cherry tree at the Vanderbilt plantation down the road,
reading. The woods behind our house where I cut my own paths
through webs of sodden leaves,
playing Lewis and Clark, carrying both sides of their conversation,
is a half-mile green swath with a cut-through creek
between new white housing developments and an island grid
of black neighborhood with its own elementary school,
its own library, its own gas station.
One road leads into it, over a bridge I am not allowed to cross,
but a turn of handle bars carries me just a block or two
before I discover clustered flat-roof houses on a lattice of dead ends.
The creek wanders down hill to a shallow pool, stagnant in summer and stinking
of skunk cabbage, but, in May, I fill a mayonnaise jar with tadpoles.
The jar stands in the kitchen window and I hover there,
useless, until my mother shoos me outdoors, out of the way.
When slivers of tadpole tail
appear at the bubbled edges of the water,
she dumps the paddling, greyish mess into the yard,
never mind that futile, minute struggle of diminutive legs in the grass,
my ineffectual tears, the impossibility of rescue.
I am at Manuel’s –
there are plank tables so it must be Manuel’s –
and Stan is here –
we are bundled in knit caps and scarves and mittens –
our breath mingles white in the dank, beery air,
and all I can talk of is Coca-cola –
that thick blue glass,
that luscious frozen sweat.
I revolve my tongue on it,
hum to it, tickle it with specifics,
shake it up and lick the fizz as it bubbles over the lip.
He says, “You know these bottles may not be enough.”
His arms are laden with them. They look like lilies.
Okay, do something about it: beat back death.
Scrape of wool plaid and the scent of winter,
deckle caps, shock of brown cold, cascade of sweetness –
trembling in the throat, swelling heartbeat, spreading flush,
flecks of ice.