March 11, 2010

COLD MORNING, 1937 and Memory Book


The night of the disaster, no one slept.
Sirens ripped the darkness with doom.
Dogs howled back. After the bodies
were found, we tried sleep,
stared at the ceiling, fixed by memories
we could never escape or soon describe.

Exhaustion loosened our grip on consciousness,
we slipped into a dark pool, lay floating
face down below the surface, until
the gray pool merged with gray dawn.

We rose, forcing our leaden feet
to the terrible task: caskets, the unctuous
minister, the exhausted emergency worker.

In a garage beside the mortuary,
makeshift tables held the remnants of lives,
shrouded in bloody sheets.

Rituals were omitted.  No neighbors stood
in doorways bearing plates of cake.
Those not bereaved avoided our eyes,
terrible as gorgons.

Yesterday's March morning warmed
to the trills of mockingbirds. Gulf breezes
rushing inland tossed new bluebonnets.
Today is a cottonmouth under a cold stone.

-- Carolyn Jones Frei


One muggy afternoon the students sat
for their last school pictures.  In the air
from the photographer's fan
the children's hair blows to the left.

When I open the Memory Book,
dead schoolmates assume weight,
dimension.  The faculty comes first
in death, knowing, dignified,
The school secretary wears a secret
smile, planning the wedding
that never came. Seniors parade
in caps and gowns, diplomas
never signed.  On the yellowing
pages for primary school, wisps
of hair slip from clips and ribbons,
bangs hang unevenly.

The names are regional: Iva Jo,
Sybil, Glendell, Lataine. Boys in
their fathers ties never inherited
their names. From freckled faces
clear eyes gaze, searching fate
in the camera's lens, composing
historic ovals memorized
by grieving parents.

Billy wears his skullcap, chin up,
feisty as always. Tall Ollie is shy.
The twins are separate on the page,
though never in life or death. The best
dressed girl wears her best dress.

They know the final mystery.
But we who survive memorialize
the pain, the loss of trust, another
slaughter of the innocents.

-- Carolyn Jones Frei