Giving & Taking

I am writing a poem based on Louise Gluck’s line from “Nostos,” which is also the opening of my memoir I’m really making progress on. So here goes. Check out more poems at Real Toad’s Tuesday Platform.


“We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.”



A small chubby foot, bare on the splintered fence, a heave and hoist.

Then my curled fingers reach for the top wooden rung;

wobbling and steadying, I have climbed the outside

of my father’s fence,

the lush expanse of yard all for my eyes to see.

Like a bird.

I bet I see what the swallows and hummingbirds must see.


The flowering crab hangs its pink blossom-laden boughs

low to the earth. Its sweet honeysuckle fills me

and the petals tickle my bare shoulder as the breeze lazes in.

Through the menagerie of blush and branches I can make out

the white dirty hamper of a farmhouse, the purple

of the lilacs slipping in and out of view.

The dirt drive where my sister pedals the Big Wheel in jerky circles.

The screen tent where Little Great Grandma sips lemonade.

I like her. She gave me sour sugary sips out of her

real glass, the ice long melted. She wears a sunhat

with a scarf around the crown every afternoon.

From my perch on the yard’s perimeter I can hear the zip-zip

of the tent’s door as my little sister tumbles in to see her.


My father is somewhere. He is always here. It is the one solid thing–

an unquestionable fact. When we are here on the weekends,

he never leaves us.

I sidestep carefully to get closer to the heavy branch

that has the apples. The dry wood scratches

the soles of my feet. My tank top snags during

a wide step and my tan tummy scrapes against the rail.

I am losing balance. I am gaining balance.

Pleasure fills me.


I’m so close now.

I brace my shoulders and stretch a leg

over the top rail and scoot, pull, scoot, pull,

lifting myself up to the top. The barbed wire

is not that far away–the reason we aren’t allowed

near the fence.

My groin burns against the skinny beam

so I hook my leg on the outside of the

fence around the bottom beam so I can lock around it.

I am still and strong–I clap to test and I don’t fall.


A car pulls in the dusty drive. My mother.


Pulling the smaller leafy branch to me, the shaking

disturbs the bees a little and seemingly thousands

more blossoms fall below to the grass in shadow.

The swing tied to one of the boughs sways–I remember to look around.

This could easily give me away.

But that’s the thing:

here at the farmhouse I don’t get in trouble.

I don’t get punished.

I don’t get launched into the side of a

truck bed and I don’t get  the belt or

chased in my jelly shoes by a fist.

No one here touches me with false intentions.


But it’s Sunday today.

She’s calling our names.


I pluck the green crab apple from its stem

and gnaw my front teeth into its

toughness. The juice–sour and bitter–leaks

into my mouth and down my chin, dribbling onto my

mound of a stomach.

I pluck and suck, pluck and suck.

Curiosity of tasting wild fruit, the dangerous scaling up

near the barbed wire, the reaching so far above the

ground–it all isn’t satisfying enough suddenly.

I am filling with a sort of manic

urgency to take and take.


She calls my name again.


I can’t stop. My hands pluck and I bite

and swallow and toss

the acrid apples into the growing pile,

filling up and taking all I can, knowing I can’t keep them,

that I can’t keep him, that he’s small and

we’re being given, I’m being taken, I am taking, I am giving

my best behavior, I am giving my voice and taking

what I am told to take.


Amy Jo!


Her tone is the pretense into how the rest of the day will unfold.

I know I cannot stay.

I know I’ll only be back once more

before we move with our mother and new stepfather

to a big city far away.


I obey.


Watching him wave from the other side of the dirty

window, his shy voice saying “I love yous,”

his large Adam’s apple bobbing; watching

him on his long denim legs

standing in the dust as we turn out and pull away–

how he grows small and then smaller–

and then there’s just the side of the house

and the pink tops of trees, and then other trees,



4 thoughts on “Giving & Taking

  1. If we only look once in childhood, then it is an entire glance we spend the rest of our lives particularizing. The tree the speaker climbs is raw and substantial and perfect, dividing histories between parents (I think). A perch Mad Sweeney keeps returning to, diving into the combs of song.



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