by Margaret Gibson

Round, around the walnut table
with its central stem and lion’s feet
(where the children, barefoot, put
their toes in the smooth grooves
and stroked the beast beneath the table)
I gathered us for dinners.
I remember the idle talk of boats
and houses, tall glasses of iced tea,
cups of milk. I remember how Stephen
carved, each slice so perfectly
drawn down he might as well have used
his architect’s rule. I remember
linens that were never marked
by purpled circles or half circles.
Bart sailed bread cubes
over the surface of his soup. Sarah made
stories from her blue willow plate—
birds changed back to lovers,
a house floated like a flower
beneath a bridge, around the world
to China, where someone needed succor,
needed her potatoes—I’d given
her too much to eat.

I remember Stephen missing dinner—
too much work, late conferences, too much
booze—each absence so unpredictable
I refused to take out a table leaf
or know he wasn’t coming. I liked
our dinner mats just to touch
at the top corners. I liked the easy
reach of hands joined first
to bless this food to our use,
the easy reach of my fork into Sarah’s
plate, into Bart’s.
I remember, oh,
setting the table the night
Bart died, four places, and his special
cup—I had to, I don’t know why.
Although Stephen, pushing his plate
into the flowers, scraping the floor
with his chair, said he knew.
Sarah watched us dry eyed.
Her spoon turned circles in her soup.
The ripples widened, and when
Jennie came to be in Bart’s place,
the emptiness filled. We were
a happy family, or I wanted us
to be . . .

Last updated November 03, 2022