Did she run away first,
take a job in another city
leave him with the kids
to take his turn next time?
Was it stealthy, untelegraphed
he didn’t come home one afternoon
to swing up the children
who waited by the door?
Or did she agree that he should go–
his dreams stillborn in the struggle to feed seven
(and why didn’t he see ahead to this
when he pulled her to him each night)?
There were better jobs somewhere
than the stink of the tannery.
He would send money back to them.
(Was it the unexpected joy of freedom
that had made him forget?)
All that’s clear is she
scrubbed hospital floors
washed dishes in hotel kitchens
milked the cow
kept them all alive–
six mouths meagerly filled
six bodies barely sheltered.
Had she expected anything different?
Generations of Poetry, April 2011