by Maxine Kumin

Page 3

Now this is a little bit self-indulgent. It's a poem called "Grandchild." The setting is the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland, right on the border with France. If you know that area, you know that just across the Douan lies Ferney a Voltaire, which was where Voltaire had his summer home, his secondary residence. And he had it there for a good reason: so in case he was accused of heresy, he could just step across to Switzerland and not go to jail, or far worse. Okay, there's nothing that I think needs to be explained, having said that. It's just called "Grandchild," for Yann.

All night the douanier in his sentry box
at the end of the lane where France begins plays fox
and hounds with little spurts of cars
that sniff to a stop at the barrier
and declare themselves. I stand at the window
watching the ancient boundaries that flow
between my daughter's life and mine dissolve
like taffy pulled until it melts in half
without announcing any point of strain
and I am a young unsure mother again
stiffly clutching the twelve-limbed raw
creature that broke from between my legs, that stew
of bone and membrane loosely sewn up in
a fierce scared flailing other being.

We blink, two strangers in a foreign kitchen.
Now that you've drained your mother dry and will
not sleep, I take you in my arms, brimful
six days old, little feared-for mouse.
Last week when you were still a fish
in the interior, I dreamed you thus:
The douanier brought you curled up in his cap
buttoned and suited like him, authority's prop
--a good Victorian child's myth--
and in his other hand a large round cheese
ready to the point of runniness.
At least there, says the dream, no mysteries.

Toward dawn I open my daughter's cupboard on
a choice of calming teas--infusions--
verbena, fennel, linden, camomile,
shift you on my shoulder and fill the kettle.
Age has conferred on me a certain grace.
You're a package I can rock and ease
from wakefulness to sleep. This skill comes back
like learning how to swim. Comes warm and quick
as first milk in the breasts. I comfort you.
Body to body my monkey-wit soaks through.

Later, I wind the outside shutters up.
You sleep mouse-mild, topped with camomile.
Daylight slips past the douane. I rinse my cup.
My daughter troubles sleep a little while
longer. The just-milked cows across the way
come down their hillside single file
and the dream, the lefthand gift of ripened brie
recurs, smelly, natural, and good
wanting only to be brought true
in your own time: your childhood.

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Last updated on March 10, 2008
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