All the People Who Have Been Kind to Me
Let’s start with how my brother willingly
put on a sunbonnet to be Mary in my own
private version of Little House on the Prairie.
One summer afternoon he even feigned losing
sight to prove he’d been listening to what I said.
That same year, after our dog chased a squirrel under
the tires of a Cadillac, my father tenderly wrapped the body
in a soft, flowered sheet and drove it to the vet.
Every afternoon my mother set out two cookies
on a bright blue plate and waited in her sitting
room to hear me report on my day. Our childless
neighbor called me each Epiphany to come
hang hundreds of glittery Czechoslovakian birds
from her blue spruce. My fifth-grade teacher,
Mr. Johnson, taught me to play on his Taylor guitar.
Mrs. Pilkington cleared a space in her yard so we could
have a fort even in the city. No matter the weather
Mimi would walk to Baskin-Robbins with me
when I called to say my parents were having a fight.
In college the owner of the nearest French restaurant gave me
a job in the kitchen even though he clearly didn’t need the help.
The radiation lab tech put cool ointment on my burns.
The chemo nurse put warm compresses on my veins.
My oncologist has spared me from ever looking at my file.
Yesterday Claire called to hear my voice. Lauren
came into my office to say she climbed a rock wall
thinking, all the while, of what I’d said in class about
poetry and bravery and silence. As you might guess,
this is a lullaby in reverse, because more than ever now
I see the need to stay awake in this world.
Recipient of 2014 Maxwell C. Weiner Distinguished Chair in Humanities at Missouri University, Charlotte Matthews is author of two full length collections: Still Enough to Be Dreaming and Green Stars. She lives in Crozet, Virginia with her husband, two kids, a dog and a hive of honey bees.