Self-Portrait with Secret

by Joan Michelson

This could be the outer door.
It’s heavy and hard to open.
Behind it, another, and mother,
an absence I cannot enter.

She came home at the end
of summer. The brightness. Scent
of lavender. I am running, longing
to embrace my mother.
Six weeks. Two foster homes.
I share a bed with my younger sister.
She holds my hand to sleep and wets
the bottom sheet. No one scolds.

But in early August, my father
quits his job to bring us home.
At the end of summer, he signed
for mother. She looked small, smaller.

Sometimes I can almost reach her.
Sometimes I can run without
stopping. The light. Her lavender.
Waking to the world, I face

my first day of school. Mother,
away since winter, goes on sitting,
always in the yard-chair, her face
pale and lifted towards the sun.