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August, Los Angeles, Lullaby

By Carol Muske-Dukes
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The pure amnesia of her face,
newborn. I looked so far
into her that, for a while,
 
the visual held no memory.
Little by little, I returned
to myself, waking to nurse
 
those first nights in that
familiar room where all
the objects had been altered
 
imperceptibly: the gardenia
blooming in the dark
in the scarred water glass,
 
near the phone my handwriting
illegible, the patterned lamp-
shade angled downward and away
 
from the long mirror where
I stood and looked at
the woman holding her child.
 
Her face kept dissolving
into expressions resembling
my own, but the child’s was pure
 
figurative, resembling no one.
We floated together in the space
a lullaby makes, head to head,
 
half-sleeping. Save it,
my mother would say, meaning
just the opposite. She didn’t
 
want to hear my evidence
against her terrible optimism
for me. And though, despite her,
 
I can redeem, in a pawnshop
sense, almost any bad moment
from my childhood, I see now
 
what she must have intended
for me. I felt it for her,
watching her as she slept,
 
watching her suck as she
dreamed of sucking, lightheaded
with thirst as my blood flowed
 
suddenly into tissue that
changed it to milk. No matter
that we were alone, there’s a
 
texture that moves between me
and whatever might have injured
us then. Like the curtain’s sheer
 
opacity, it remains drawn
over what view we have of dawn
here in this onetime desert,
 
now green and replenished,
its perfect climate
unthreatened in memory—
 
though outside, as usual,
the wind blew, the bough bent,
under the eaves, the hummingbird
 
touched once the bloodcolored hourglass,
the feeder, then was gone.

 
Carol Muske-Dukes, "August, Los Angeles, Lullaby" from Wyndmere.  Copyright © 1985 by Carol  Muske-Dukes. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
 
Source: An Octave Above Thunder ( Penguin Books, 1997 )
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