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Baltimore

Do you recall? The three of you
Were somewhat small, your brother but
A tell-tale throb within my fast
Approaching-forty-year-old breast.

The air was scarf-and-mitten brisk.
Country mice, we did our best
At keeping warm at crossing lights
That bewitching New Year’s Eve.

Your aunt and uncle were not wrong.
Charm City charmed—the winter Harbor
And Fell’s Point, wide southern streets
More clean and friendly than New York.

And while they’d urged us not to look,
We didn’t turn your heads away
From crumbling doorways or the ragged
Men asleep on steaming vents.

We wanted you to see the spectrum
And the cost of urban life,
For grown-ups know that at the core
Of civil blessings lies the worm—

Which can’t be conquered. What to do
To sate both beast and inner angel?
Sharks at the Aquarium,
A round of sweets at Wockenfuss.

Each strange and mesmerizing tin foil
Visionary Art Museum
Star still glowing in our eyes,
We took a final, gothic lark:

To find the grave, as day grew dark,
At the city’s heart, where Green
And Fayette cross: Westminster Hall
Burying Ground and Catacombs—

This was all your dad’s idea,
And I confess it cheered me on,
Since I felt woeful in those days
In a wordless bookish way.

For just as dusk was drawing nigh
We found the storied crypt-like tomb
Adorned with tawdry gifts and bathed,
I swear! in literary gloom.

We gave you coins to lay among
the faded blooms and trinkets placed
by fans of grinning death such gaudy,
grotesque tokens smile upon.

We lingered on, but then you three,
At first quite scared, now bored and cold,
Appealed to hunger. “Can we leave?”
And it was time. Why should I grieve?

Your father read my face, and said,
“Go on and ask.” You watched me blush,
Then circle round the ice-cold crypt—
“Oh, will I ever write a book?”

I held my breath. No voice replied.
Suddenly, red-cheeked David cried,
“Mom, look, it’s snowing!” breaking the spell.
You three stood shivering, so we left.

I hardly knew if I was more
embarrassed or bereft—and then
we noticed that the snow had vanished.
Dad grabbed my hand and we turned back:

Bright flakes were falling on the grave
but nowhere else. And in the black
grown deep as raven flight, Dad whispered,
“There’s your sign! Go home and write.”

I squeezed his hand. “Now, who wants crab cakes?”
“Me!” “Let’s go!” With one last glance
I thrilled to see that fading globe
of light filled with falling snow.

Postscript, 2018
Dear Friend: Thank you. To the skeptic:
Why would I lie? In his brief life
He was a rather sketchy guy
Whose words won out the tomb. The End.

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Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, a longtime editor and new-ish author of six picture books, most recently From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! (Albert Whitman, 2015) and The Boy Who Said Nonsense (Albert Whitman, 2016), loves to explore the wild, incalculable ways of moving through the written word.

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