Late October

On the couch
together, in the casual light
of the afternoon, my legs
draped across her, and both of us
sipping tea, she reached

to brush a bit of dirt
from my forehead, only
it wasn’t dirt, it slipped
back up into my hair,

and neither of us wanted
to believe it, but
it was true, I had been
scratching for days. So,
because I wasn’t home
for long, with no time
to waste, we did
the whole thing,

just as in childhood:
bathed my scalp
over the sink with the stuff
from the blue bottle,
rinsed it out, her hand
over my eyes to keep them
dry, and finally, just
after sunset, began: strand

by strand, she picked
the nits out, small
and clear as beads of water
on her comb. Like returning

to a dream we’d shared,
but couldn’t quite
remember, except
through reenactment,
each small gesture spurring
the next, she pushed
my head forward
and back, I sighed,
and the lamp, with its shade
removed, kept us
in its light, even
as outside became dark,
and the windows turned
to mirrors, reflecting
all of it back to me,

already exactly how
I would remember it:
me, slouched forward,
tall body bent so that
my mother could best
reach, and my mother,
cheeks unevenly red,
grimacing, working
over each clump of hair
again and again, hands
trembling slightly—we spent

four nights like this,
and then I left,
and as it turned out,
it had worked, the lice
were gone. And I told

everybody, all my friends
about it, the infestation, and
of course, they laughed
at such a disclosure.
Mama, although

I am away from you
now, I think you will be glad
to know that I am doing
better these past days,
I am spending the weekend
in a cabin on a lake
way north even
of Connecticut. It is
so beautiful, the sky,
and all the leaves just
changing; see, across
the lake, those yellow trees—

they are truly
gleaming, they are
really that bright. Oh,
and the lake, sparkling,
blue, wind hurrying
the surface of the water, all
those ripples, fast and cold.

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