Lucille Lang Day has been on my radar for quite some time, but today I actually discovered her. Not just her poetry, her 11 books of poetry (as I counted from her website), her many awards and her anthologies, books of prose and memoirs, like Married at Fourteen, not even the poem I had just read this morning which led me to all this from a link in my inbox, not even her scholarly science papers, her degrees, but more than all this it was the discovery of her, who inspired me to come back and post on this website again, after the death of my husband, and of others too, including my oldest brother, and then the losses not by death but estrangement that in some ways hurt the most. Lucy Day’s life story itself is so vibrant, and so unusual, something she embraces to the benefit of all of us. As if her story is telling me now it’s high time to embrace my own oddities, those histories it seems no one could possibly accept. And not just accept, but flaunt them, no holds barred. It is her delightful courage really that inspires.
So this poem kind of exemplifies what I love in her work, the impetuous storytelling, the sense that life is just bursting from the seams, and that we can’t just hold it all in, that it was meant, and so we can make it destined, to be shared.
Return to Acushnet
To my mother, Evelyn Lang
I finally see your life—
a page ripped from a book,
its meaning, emotions, intent
fragmentary and obscured.
I’ve found the town where you were born,
whose name you never told me,
and met the family you were torn from,
not as a baby
but as a child old enough to know
your mother was dead,
your father was letting you go.
I ran an ad to find descendants
of your father’s sisters.
One lived in a log cabin in Acushnet,
amid red maples, weeds, abandoned cars.
Her crazy brother lived alone next door
in the shingled farmhouse that belonged
to your grandparents when they were young
and raising children, chickens, pigs, and cows.
The fireflies in Massachusetts winked and glowed
in the elms in early summer,
constellations of memories
appearing and disappearing amid the leaves,
your life itself like a leaf
cleaved too soon from the tree.
Out back, a tractor sat rusting in tall grass—
the carcass of an animal,
fossilized, extinct. The barn
had fallen down the year before. The porch
that used to wrap around the house
was gone. A notice in the window said
“Condemned.” The once grand stairs inside
were carpeted with dust. Paint peeled
from the walls; boxes, bags, and garbage
filled the rooms. I went upstairs:
I had to see it all. Pine floorboards
were loose, cobwebs everywhere.
I closed my eyes and saw bright quilts
where long ago your father’s sisters slept.
When I came back down,
Cousin Ken stared straight ahead
in the kitchen, trembling from his drugs.
Mother, eight years dead,
your father, aunts and uncle,
all long gone, are listed on the Internet.
Imagine it! Ernestine, born first,
watched the little ones: Valetta,
Harriet, and Mabel, who quilted, sang,
and put on plays; Rowland and your father,
Ebenezer, who liked to trick the girls.
The night I visited the house
where they were born, Grandpa Eb
appeared in a dream, lithe
and handsome, with his big mustache.
“Go back to California,” he said.
“I’ll come visit you.” I think he wanted
to stand beside me, watching
a Western gull, its pink feet
skimming the crests of the Pacific,
hear Hutton’s vireo call
from the top of a California oak, wrap
his taut arms tight around us both
like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to the mast,
but I knew in the end he’d let go.