Author photo by Peter's son, Walter Bakowski

Monday, January 17, 2011

Missing in action


Although she’s mopping the kitchen floor,
Ella is crying.

Words come out of her husband’s mouth.
Some variation of “Stop now, Ella.”
Ed’s a good man,
keeps his lawn trimmed,
stays away from liquor and the racetrack.

Neighbours bring meals.
Roast chicken, gumbo, lasagna.
Ella remembers her father saying,
“Food is love, the only way some folks can speak.”

Roland’s room.
Ella stands at its threshold,
looks again at the wall poster of Sly Stone
wearing a rainbow-coloured cap,
on stage at Woodstock,
once a hit-maker,
once a hero.

Evenings, after dinner,
sometimes Ed moves towards the record player,
then shakes his head,
knows Ella isn’t ready,
tells himself
that the quiet,
after an eight hour shift at the brewery,
is good.

Ella removes the candlestick holder
from the dining-room table,
to work further on her quilt,
the story of her sharecropper parents
told in panels,
told in thread and stitches,
their days of work and prayer
sewn into a field of cloth.

In the quilt
trees appear.
Trees in which
a girl could hide,
pretend she was a bird,
flying away from her home
of plank and tin,
flying away from the South,
following the moon-lit railway tracks
all the way to Chicago.

From his armchair,
Ed looks up from the book he’s reading.
He cannot see words
only Roland,
lying in mud,
flies crawling his face.

Ed closes his eyes
until the image leaves him.

There is Ella,
still at the dining-room table,
working on her quilt.

Ed watches the threaded needle
dive and resurface,
guided by his wife’s steady hand.