The Night Held Them
The happy family dancing around the bonfire. Halloween party. Mother holding the laughing baby in her bee suit. Father singing and clapping beside them. And the night held them through the dark drive home. Baby sleeping in the backseat. Mother and father watching the headlights split laces of fog. The night held them as they approached the stoplight, where they heard a thousand vials breaking. When they saw, in the distance, a car burn into a tree. When they asked, What to do? What to do? When a man yelled, Stay back. When they sat and watched the spitting blaze, the night anchored them. In the air they tasted dark water. It’s the water a swimmer fears, when someone is drowning. It’s the water beneath the wriggling feet, where she dives and kicks but can’t creep deep enough. It’s the blood of a wound the surgeon must probe to find the source of pain. When does he stop his scalpel? Where does he place the consoling stitch? What to do? And the mother whispers, Whose child? She never met the young marine on leave for a week, dressed as a prince, driving to a party. Five miles away, moonlight falls on a chessboard. A woman waiting in a window adjusts her tiara. She says, He should be here. They move on: the cars that collect at the light. The patrolman swings his flair like a lantern, guiding them across. And the night held the family as the father drove forward. As the mother turned back, her finger touching the baby’s candy bracelet. Sirens in the distance. Too late. The father saying, What could we have done? The mother watching the way the flames from the blaze flicker across the baby’s face, light her bee wings and hat. And the baby releasing a dreamy chuckle, sleeping through it all.
Originally published in the anthology Late Peaches: Poems by Sacramento Poets