“The Hour of Our Belief” by Mary Mclaughlin Slechta

Mary McLaughlin Slechta


I want to know who cried for the toy I found out back this afternoon.
Was it the same child who ate a sandwich made from the bread
out of the plastic bag I found last week? So difficult to date plastic.
The toy gas pump promises five cents a gallon.
That would make a dollar’s worth about a tank.
Maybe 1960. Maybe a politician now. Small world.
Someone who keeps voting for war to save our way of life.
The Onondagas want the land returned to their stewardship.
They want the lake cleaned properly.
They want everything back the way it was
before that odious Simon LeMoyne grabbed all the salt
for his three-minute egg. Before his flock fouled the water.
I want everything put back. The toy put back in the boy’s pocket
and the boy’s father back on a ship beside his parents.
I want the ship setting a reverse course for the shores of Europe.
Before they arrive I want Hitler back in his mother’s womb
and the reset stone in her garden wall
back in the path of her thin-soled slipper.
The passengers will insist on sandwiches, I suppose,
lovely little sandwiches wrapped in paper.
If they trim the bread, let them leave the crusts behind
to feed the birds a lavish supper. Then let the birds go back
to eating whatever it is they did before McDonald’s.
I’ll go back too, a circuitous route by wagon first,
returning my skillet to the forge, my rolling pin to the forest,
discharging my nose and hair like a Halloween mask,
my skin like a suit of mail: a withered champion,
at last, more onion and potato than flesh and bone,
ascending the bow of a ship from the cool dry cellar of my soul.
Oh, amazing grace! To cross the dangerous shoals
where the bones sing home all the ships at sea.
Let the women swallow back air they churned to storm.
Let them refill the lungs of children
they pull from waves and wrest their husbands
from the teeth of sharks. In the restored calm,
let memory whet my tongue
for the anchor of my mother’s food.
On shore, my father waits.
His hands are empty with missing me.
Let the glint at his feet in the sand
be only the sun, chasing the tail
of a golden worm.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets


Mary Mclaughlin Slechta: “As I restored the soil of my city garden, each token of former human activity became a little mystery. I also thought a lot about the much abused Onondaga Lake we can almost see from the back window and the Onondaga land claim that embraces the lake as well as this poorly treated land. This poem is dedicated to all of us moved and removed, but mostly to the long, juicy worms that have wiggled back from who knows where.”

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