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Martha Collins' first book of poems, first published in 1985 and reissued in 1998.
The Story We Know
The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, just fine,
and Good bye at the end. That's every story we know,
and why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,
and then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
and Good bye. In the end, this is a story we know
so well we don't turn the page, or look below
the picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.
But one night, through the latticed window, snow
begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good bye is the end of every story we know
that night, and when we dose the curtains, oh,
we hold each other against that cold white sign
of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good bye is the only story. We know, we know.
(To hear Garrison Keilor read this poem, scroll down to 26 February on The Writer's Almanac.)
Her name was next to mine
and sometimes, in the same
pearls and sweater, we were twins
at our desk in the second row.
All that year we rode
Caesar's horses, we declined
this and that and in the spring
we made a purple cake for Rome.
Joanie thought of children
and this spring I think, A trip
to Rome! I think, My own child!
As if I had room for other places
in this life. Joanie didn't
after all and I remember that
Italia est paeninsula and Rome
is on its edge. Rome was war,
Rome was men: they made patterns
with their shields, they found honor
on their swords. A wolf nursed
their twins. They ate their plates.
Joanie is bones. Her last ride
was on her back, her bare feet pale
against the stirrups. She bore down,
she wore no pearls, she rode air,
I ride, you ride, we ride
such horses as we can.
Italia non est insula.
Nor I, nor you, nor you.
The poem Several Things can be read at Poems on Poems