Caitlin Doyle

Thirteen

 

There are as many years in you as witches in a coven,
devil's dozen, number of steps to the noose, no use
to rub a rabbit's foot or knock on wood,
you've had one too many birthdays than you should

twelve years they served Chedorlaomer     and the thirteenth they rebelled

    so you learned to read from the book your father
held before the fire but the thirteenth psalm proved him a liar
and in your heart you said the multiplication tables
must go higher     and then you began to bleed. Old dress filling with new need!

There were twelve branches in your father's book,
twelve kinds of precious stone; there were twelve loaves
and twelve bright springs     but now there's a month
no calendar brings     and now there's an hour no church-bell rings.
    There were twelve gates and twelve golden cups
and twelve fruits in the tree     twelve white pillars
and twelve tall sons     but now there's a gate where no boy swings.

There are as many years in you as petals on a black-eyed sue,
    seats at the last supper, spades in a deck; no sense to hang
a cross around your neck or throw salt over your shoulder.
    Your mother stiffens when you hold her.
Your mother pulls away and you remain on the steps
        of the school. She won't come again before the fall
    begins to turn; it may be too late then for all but snow and nests below the leaves
    and trees whose shaking is uncontrollable

give me back the child consolable
    taking your hand, may squeeze too hard
taking you home, may not say a word
but always audible     give me back the child consolable

    Always heard, your mother invisible
  as you turn and climb the steps or learn that an eclipse
  is the moon across the sun or discover that your age is divisible by none
or put your clothing on before the mirror.   Never nearer
    as you turn     or discern a face   ever clearer,

what is happening? An opening,   a breach, a loop of rope, a door? One step more,

the hands can't catch,     the hands can't reach,   the clock is wound               but
you're beyond.