Poetry Advent Calendar Day 17

Today’s poem comes from John B. Lee’s Moths that Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds. This piece reminds us of how precious the time we have with our loved ones is.


The Day the Words Began to Drift


my mother
loved the game of Scrabble
ever since that winter morning
fifty-five Christmases ago
she gave her children
the gift of the game
set in the pine scent
of the farmhouse parlour
in the blue flame flicker of home
with the box on the floor
board and tiles
and four wooden racks

we kept the letters
like chess pieces
synched by a golden cord
in a purple Royal Crown bag
and we went hand blind
for the random and secret selection
of vowels in hope of Q and Zed or
the eight point J, my mother was always
a stickler for the rules
for miss-your-turn misspellings
and for words that were not words at all
but her only son
evolved beyond the poverty of her
cheap green Dent Elementary School dictionary
his eight-letter mind
his complex cross weave
of interlocking language
his triple-word axioms, his lexicon
that of a boy with a bedside Thesaurus
and a head for the big score
the fifty-point bonus
the arcane and rarely used nouns

for him
it was all about
big winning
impressing his father
and boring his sister
with the quick stitch
that doubled the value of being alive

then came
the last game

my mother the widow
making words on her rack, then
turning that sad result
saying “There …
I made the word ‘time’ – your turn -”

“No mother!
You need to place the word on the board.”

And so
she affixes her tiles
in the upper right corner
of the board
orphaned and lonesome as time
and I say
“No mother … you
need to fasten your word
to the words already there …”

And she says
“Why would I do that –
see there –
a triple word score”

I repeat my instructions
and she says

“I don’t understand
this game …
I think you’re making it up
as you go along.”

And that day I remember
as the day
the words began to drift
like seed kites on the breath of May
the way
they alight and tumble
and lift and spin
and pinwheel as they loft and fall
and spill and catch and then hold
to the green spear of the lawn
like whisker dust and barn web
and old linen
that vanishes slowly
as it ages in filters of brilliant light

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