“One Among a Thousand Possible Versions” by Alison Luterman

Alison Luterman


The backyard lilacs were my mother’s favorite.
You could swoon from their scent in the spring.
You could lie on your back all afternoon
looking up through their purple calligraphy
to emerge hours later with a damp shirt back,
light-headed and dizzy.

I remember her thin, tensile arm,
the flashing cuts of her engagement ring
when she gripped our skinny wrists.
My fragile, ferocious mother
denied ever raising a hand against us,
even when my father caught her
washing my sister’s mouth out with soap.
Her denials were epic and dazzling,
cathedral-like in their complexity, and unending.

She taped a poster to our front door:
“War Is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things”
and wore her MIA bracelet for decades,
long after the U.S. had left Vietnam.
Her missing soldier was never found.

“Her missing soldier was never found.”
As good an epitaph as any.
The war in our home went on and on.

She took me to Washington with her,
and we marched, in protest, at Nixon’s inaugural.
Black shrouds covered our faces,
and around our necks we hung signs which read
“Hanoi” and “Saigon.”

A poem like this should have flowers in it,
or at least the skreel of bagpipes.
Because she wore so many veils I go naked
and tell and tell, too much of everything.
She would have fought and died for us
if only we’d lived under siege.
We lived under siege.
Still, she made sure I went to France,
and took me to plays where she cried in the dark.

The closest I ever felt to her
was the one time, parked in the car,
when I blurted out, “I always felt
you weren’t really my mother,”
and she shocked me by saying, “I know. I’ve never felt
it either.” Afterwards, of course, she denied it.
But even a few words of truth create their own star.
And that’s what she is for me now,
a fugitive beacon, often obscured
by smog or cloud cover,
but blazing relentlessly, bright and far.

from Rattle #48, Summer 2015


Alison Luterman: “I write poems, eavesdrop, loiter, teach, and pull weeds, in no particular order.” (website)

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