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A light came on in the gray goose-traveled dusk   You went in
and sitting at the low table’s ragged edge you ate
what the old woman brought   oatcakes and Stilton cheese that smelled of roots
from the same dairy that had been her grandfather’s in the war
when you were just born   We never starved in the country she said
That night the radiator failed and the high-ceilinged room
became a winter barn   You remembered one scene from the gallery   hard ice
with children skating and in the foreground a man killing a pig
This was before your journey   before the train set you down on Darsham
Station in a fit of sleet   Then over your pajamas   drawing up
the long black woolen skirt around the collarbone   you slept

All night an east wind shook the reed beds like so much chaff
then it turned   You woke to doves pecking the half-iced birdbath
and a thrush sang in the lane   Just a twicer    pure Suffolk
for this two-faced month spinning its ribs in the cold    You fed
the wood fire while the old woman put your knitting right
rewound the yarn began another ball weaving in the tail
Forgive me it’s very basic handing back the soft blue scarf
for your new grandson    You’re almost ready to cast off
she said    Outside the estuary had been weeping for its own ebb
My prayer these days is Strengthen me Lord a little that I may go on
a bit longer    Eighty-eight this winter the first time she
didn’t make her Seville marmalade     Thick peel and not too sweet
Gave all the jars away     Meanwhile you heard dropping down
inside the stove the white-hot ends of logs their embering sound

What sign were you looking for walking out of season to the sea
its raw scent the planet’s blood or that singular dark cloud
funneled downward to the tide-line or back uphill    The rain nested in your hair
at the old woman’s house    your godmother’s    where they found a cross dug deep
into the roof-beam four centuries ago to keep the witches out
Later you would dream about the tree next door gouged by a kick
Out of nowhere came two men and did the mending from its own bark
Before you went to bed the elders’ voices reminisced of wartime
rationing    an egg a week    no clothes to buy    but Spring the trees in lace
the way a wedding dress got sewn from butter muslin
God loves a cheerful giver    How long will anyone remember this

On the last morning you filled your cup from the thick white Staffordshire pot
and stepping through the French window took your tea outside drinking in
the bright weather while two blue-tits in all a mere fistful of bird
splashed in yesterday’s puddle    They flew up and balanced on the gutter
pushing their jonquil bellies closer to the sun    In that whole week there was no
one moment when the past always speaking here from the old walls with their    rounded flints
glazed by rain ceased to insist    or the future’s what-ifs circling like swallows to    hover
Rather one long afternoon you knew something shifted underneath After the    leek soup
and summer pudding redcurrant cherry raspberry pressed down
with a plate in the bread-lined basin till the crumbs and fruit dissolved into each    other
tasting of the warm months the     old woman and yourself seated by the hearth
retracing half a life swept backward to the solitary Mother Julian who saw God
He showed me a small thing in the palm of his hand no bigger than a hazelnut
It is all that is made    Nearby the brewery horses    Suffolk Punches    scraped    huge hooves
in their stalls    Steadying herself your godmother got up and walked with you
her hand on your crooked elbow not otherwise touching    Mill Lane and Woodley Yard
watching them muzzle-deep in hay then homeward through the fine January mist.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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