Mother, May I

During the screened-porch dinner of corn on the cob,
pork chops, tomatoes like red meat, warm and bleeding,
I felt the first stirring. The air moved, cracked the damp
heat that stood around the house in blocks. The backyard

maple rustled, twenty thousand green hands waving
a signal. Robins up and down the block began
scattering their coded notes. Our yard stretched larger
as the sky lost light. Out by the lilac hedge,

imaginary shapes conspired. I had to scrape
scraps into the kitchen can, rinse and stack the plates,
while outside, I knew it, everything was starting
without me. On the porch, the kittens, one tiger,

one marmalade, were climbing right up the screens
to chase the white moths that bumped on the other side,
dying, like dumbbells, to enter our box of light.
I stood on the sill, where tomatoes were lined up

to ripen, and unhooked the tiger from the screen.
Under the fur my fingers felt her secret, hot,
skinny body; her heart like a tom-tom hammered.
Then I heard Roger calling down the block, and John

did that whistle with his fingers. The dishes clinked
in the pan. Better not ask. Just, carefully,
open the porch door a crack, so the kittens won’t
escape from safety, and slide out, like gliding

into warm, easy water. I ran on the grass,
I was gone. The air had a secret, sweetened
and heavy, like Hawaii, like honeymoons. Kids
were lined up already, across a yard where no

father was watering, solemnly wigwagging
his hose. Red Rover was first. Whoever got named
had to charge like a ram into the other line,
try to break their phalanx of linked arms. Over

and over we flung ourselves, crashed and bounced and broke.
Later came Mother, May I? and then Statues: grab
somebody’s arm and whirl him around and around
and let go! He must freeze in whatever funny