My mother, in 1966, is an accessory
atop a Revolutionary War cannon:
leopard print coat, buttons undone,
legs slimly pressed, bare knees closed –
a scene both faded and overexposed.
She wasn’t used to winter; vis à vis
her status as ‘permanent resident alien’,
she should have covered up. Pennsylvania …
Her brother already drafted in the army.
The very picture of a White Russian!
But not Pale Fire, not Uncle Vanya,
not tsars and ballerinas, le vieux pays.
Why it should feel scandalous, dunno –
not yet twelve, she’d come from São Paolo.

Perhaps three continents in a dozen years
seems extravagant or suspicious:
shady characters under the oranges
committing to a death pact or an alias;
speaking, in code or third languages,
of wartime escapades that we, all ears,
wouldn’t learn from books or on the street.
The stories were always incomplete,
like the gaps in a country ballad:
Did he find her in the Cold Kentucky Rain?
Did the Most Beautiful Girl in the World
ever come back home? It drove me mad
in the backseat: the songs unfurled
to a compass rose’s points of pain.

A water tower just beyond her yard
overlooks the wintry town as far
as thin, brown French Creek.
That’s how I can find my way back
once I cross the bridge. It is hard
to get wifi, except in a wine bar,
where Dylan’s ‘Mozambique’
jangles in the cavernousness. Malbec?
At loose ends, the bartender explains
(or pitches … ) his product is local,
from vineyards here where I was born.
But, I think, between erratic rains
and freezes, this climate is equivocal,
too encouraging to the stubborn.

In my youth I fled into the vast park,
lush, even in winter, with pale grassy
wheat-like ripplings over its broad hill
rolling back a wind of thees and thous
to the spotlit banner in the dark:
a teen listening for an embassy.
Now the Valley Forge carillon starts to play
a lament for bells melted for artillery.
The streets are called after generals –
Rochambeau, LeBoutillier –
names we hardly knew how to say:
a boutonnière or fritillary
stab at littler chimes or spells
dissipating into funerary air …

Rendezvous had a southern twang
in 1976; what emitted from the dash
salted me with something huge
and vaguely unseemly; what they sang,
for all that, came with an eyelash
unbatted at the subterfuge.
Think of Edna O’Brien’s
‘The reason love is so painful is that
it always amounts to two people
wanting more than two people
can give.’ It isn’t rocket science …
escape velocity is exactly what
revolutions pledged. Liberty to roam.
Songs asked, When are you coming home.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences