Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WHITE RABBIT, by KAREN SWENSON



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THE WHITE RABBIT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Yes, mother / holding the banister with five-year-old fingers
Last Line: Come back to climb the stairs.
Subject(s): Memory; Mothers & Daughters


Yes, Mother,
holding the banister with five-year-old fingers
muffled in Sunday gloves
I did come down the stairs
in my daffodil coat from Best's
in my straw hat with the brown ribbons down my back
and the round elastic that sliced my throat.

Thirty-five years I've tried to remember
what we fought about in your upstairs bedroom
that I've wiped from the inside of my mind -
the house ends for me at the top of the stair -
although I can smell your scent
the bottle with the perched crystal doves.

Dressed in your will of clothes
I watch you pin hat to hair in the mirror
while my small voice hurls itself against you
and a fly blunders into your glass hat
falling into the powder in the pink box.

Like butter on pancakes
the sun melts on the front porch.
I unlatch the hutch
peel the white cotton from my hands
and beat the rabbit to death,
that plump passivity of flesh
soft as your talcumed thighs.

When you discovered the rabbit
your hand snaked the dog chain round my legs
each blow winding and unwinding pain
on the bobbin of my scream.
You beat the badness from your doll.
I wished you dead.

But I kept my secret even while
I carried the cigar box
to your chant of accusations.
All those words have dissolved
into the swamp gas of nightmares.

Twenty years later
you apologized in the car,
said it couldn't have been just me,
must have been all of us
picking it up by the ears -
a hemorrhage.
I listened but didn't confess.
You, eyes taut to the road,
never mentioned the whipping
and I, now that you're dead
just as I wanted you to be,
come back to climb the stairs.





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