Two grandsons race each other across the backyard,
across this longest day of the summer,
which looks as worn out as the boys’ parents.
My daughter shouts a warning of poison ivy
as these pre-schoolers stumble and roll into weeds,
and I find myself fretting about deer ticks again.
One grandbaby cuddles in his mother’s lap
while another coos and kicks in a screened play yard.
All they need do is smile, and I am theirs.
Then, from another backyard on the street,
I hear my mother’s voice yell “Go!”
And she is sitting again on the front porch of the farmhouse
and four of her eight children
race barefoot to tag the pine tree near the road
and back again, trying to miss thistle patches.
My grandsons now pretend to be monsters.
When the mosquitoes take over,
my daughters’ husbands pick up plates
of half-eaten hot dogs and empty beer cans
as my children get their children ready for bed.
And I am reading Charlotte’s Web again,
choking back tears over Charlotte and Wilbur
and my own fears and my own loss as two little girls
half-listen as their mother pretends to be a spider.
But it is Sunday night and these young parents
have to pack for work trips and study online courses
and make lunches and double-check day care schedules.
I remember how much I too dreaded Sunday nights,
how I dawdled over grading papers, making lesson plans,
or ironing a pile of button-downs and pressing pants.
Tonight, all I have ahead of me is the drive back home,
and I open the moon roof and turn up the music.
I have lived half my life on four wheels,
from gravel roads to interstates to suburban streets,
and now I watch the stars come out
on a Connecticut highway that leads
to a quiet condo, my choices, and maybe a Netflix movie.
Forty years ago today, I put on a white gown,
pearl earrings, ballet slippers and a picture hat.
I slipped baby’s breath behind one ear
and walked down a church aisle to say, “I do.”
And I did for a long time. But I don’t anymore.
And so, by the time I get home,
this longest day will have blown out its candle,
and a soft breeze will lift my bedroom curtain.
I may hear a foghorn on Long Island Sound,
or the whistle of an Amtrak train stopping in New London.
Yes, a soft breeze will lift my bedroom curtain,
just as it did in a farmhouse surrounded by Iowa cornfields,
and an apartment off I-95 where tractor-trailers roared,
and a bungalow in New Jersey next door to a peach orchard,
and a suburban cookie-cutter house in Rhode Island,
and one big room over a deli on Benefit Street,
and a second-floor condo in the trees off busy Rte. 2.
Tonight, on this uncelebrated anniversary,
I celebrate all this day has offered,
for the memories that sifted up from long ago,
for daughters who are mothers,
and a mother who gave us all she had and never asked for anything,
for those I couldn’t make happy
and those I did.
And I celebrate the girl in the white gown
who walked down a church aisle forty years ago
and that one single sprig of baby’s breath
behind her ear.