Second Childhood

And then one night the last of the adults
departs—some uncle perhaps, with a paunch—
the last of the demigods who kept the dark
at bay, on the other side of the window
over the slow drip of the kitchen sink.
Or some favorite aunt with dark hair, and cheeks
touched with rouge. She kissed your forehead
when she tucked you in. Bone cancer takes her.

They played penny-ante at the scarred table.
You were curled up on a couch in the corner,
falling asleep to the safe slap of cards
on Formica, to the consoling hum
of the fluorescent overhead, the jasmine
scent of the aunt, betting a flush in hearts,
clinking the ice cubes in her whiskey sour.
Like a birdsong, her small chuckle of triumph.

And then, dozens of losses and lovers later,
you see her bright lipstick glowing on the rim
of the glass like a radioactive rose
one night. Your second childhood is now here,
that lonely hymn memory sings just before
the grave, when the kitchen light of years and years
ago burns out, and a cockroach ventures forth
from a crack in the buckled linoleum floor.
—Joe Smith