Seems like a woman in the morning
oughta have nothing to worry about.
Sit down and have a cup of coffee,
hum a little while, think out loud.
--Tift Merritt, When I Cross Over
I. Take, Save, Go
My mother goes for groceries alone
but my dad is restoring an auto
and would like to be left on his own
to finish, so this Saturday we tag along.
My sister is only a few months old and is sleeping
still when we return, but I am big
enough to recall a street full of screaming
fire engines and ambulances.
In the other world of night, when I get up to help
with Beth, a promise I had
made upon the first announcement of her arrival,
my mother tells me she knew to bring
the baby yesterday because a voice had told her so.
Something soft, whispered,
leaving an imprint of "take, save, go."
Cross with impatience, my father
had been inside at the kitchen
table instead of under, changing the oil
on the street, when a woman
weaves through the trees of the park,
cuts catty-corner full speed ahead,
destroys the jeep, and jumps the curb
into our house. The front of the car comes to rest
on my sister's crib and the woman's purse
ends up on my bed. She had been dead
before she entered the golf course
and only after reading the paper
does my mother learn
this woman was her mother's neighbor.
She had driven 75 miles
to suffer a stroke, but weave safely
through a labyrinth of trees,
to discover her next door
neighbor's grandchild's crib
at the heart of the maze. A day
that began with coffee and country
on the radio came to a halt when circles
tightened, lines intersected, worlds
crossed over and suddenly she found
herself in the center, with the Minotaur,
half-man, half-bull, who is only kept there
by his father in fury and shame, and it turns
out, is someone you almost knew.
I'll send you something when I cross over
When I get to where I am going
Tift Merritt, When I Cross Over
II. Child of Wolves
"I think I am special," my sister confesses at 5.
"The ghosts told Mom to bring me or else
I would have died when the car drove right
into the house, right into my room,
right into my bed." Again, I remind her that
she is already special because she is the child of wolves
left at our door to raise, that we had to shave
her so others would believe her human,
(no person baby could naturally be that bald)
that her wolf parents called her Yipping Girl Prowl,
that some nights she awakens me with
a howl, calling for a home she neither fully
forgets nor remembers.
It is to be both captured and freed to be
away from wolf parents among
another species. "Maybe we
are both wolf babies" she hopes
and fears, but I disclose I can only
trust the story the parents tell me, for I have
no way to know, no older sister to witness
my coming, to tell me the truth of my birth.
She speculates, "Maybe you had a sister when you arrived,
but late one night she aggravated
you and in a fit you later
forgot you ate her,"
she says. "I think that I am special."
Tanya Olson lives in Durham and teaches English at Vance-Granville Community College. She has been published in Simple Vows, Main Street Rag, and Bad Subjects.