This poem followed upon the drive into Chicago where our daughter had chosen to go to college. Thanks to Magpie Tales for reminding me of that experience.
So tender, I said, “Remember this.
It will be good for you to retrace this path
when you have grown away and stand at last
at the very centre of the empty city.”
Seamus Heaney, “Changes”
Crossing the Skyway bridge
for the first time, I see what she’s chosen,
alabaster city floating clear of my clinging
as station by toll station, we drop our coins into baskets,
a half dozen lanes running over with cars.
I forget to look over the railing at lake water,
bright sails, I forget everything but my mother,
before the train left for New York, pinning even more money
inside my bra, warning: “Don’t wander too far
from the group. Don’t get caught in the subway doors,
don’t stand too close to the tracks. Always deadbolt
the hotel door.” That was the last year our school
sent its Seniors to New York. It’s nothing but jungle now
I hear my father say. Wouldn’t want one of mine living there.
This is Chicago, I tell him. Not New York.
And isn’t your grandson now living in Brooklyn? My father shrugs,
settles back into the hum of my own questions.
Where will she live and how far from the campus? How many
armed robberies this year? And traffic,
how will she cross streets without
being run down? “Lock your doors,” I say
as we exit the Skyway. She laughs at me.
Let her. I can’t let her go without leaving my
mother’s fears with her, they’re all I can muster right now.
We will climb in our empty car soon enough
and drive home without her. So let us unload books
and clothing, her numerous boxes of earrings,
my bundles of medicines she shrugs aside
when I warn her she’ll need them come bitter
times. Icy stairs. Frigid streets she’ll walk
without my knowing where. This is her city now,
let her stand at the heart of it, hearing its
sirens, arterial rumblings of El trains
and buses. Its welcoming emptiness.
from Coming to Rest, LSU Press