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In the Library

The Haskell Free Library straddles the U. S. / Canadian border between Stanstead, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont. The border is marked by a line of black tape on the floor of the reading room. Because people from countries like Iran studying in the U. S. on single-entrance visas cannot leave the country without losing their status and the previous administration’s travel ban prohibited their relatives from entering the U. S., the library became an unofficial meeting place for families who were separated, in some cases for years.

Taking my face in her hands she strokes my beard,
kisses my eyes. If I could, I would stop all the clocks in the world
and keep her here, filling the absence
that centers my life. In her wrinkled hands I am a child again
rocking in memory’s cradle, in the cottage
of stories she told me at bedtime:

in one, a mother dwelled in a magical town with its own moon above,
but her only son was taken from her. Every dawn,
she walked out to the garden and watered a cedar tree
she believed he’d been turned into,
whispering into his leaves with the card­amom scent of her breathing­—

just as my mother comes to me, over the rim of the world,
promising that home stays as I left it, a part of myself
glowing still in the darkness behind things I hardly remember.

She sobs into my chest. I’ve forgotten so many words now,
but her tears remind me: to be fluent in love
is to be fluent in grief.

In the corner, an old man reads magazines. Children do homework.
As her big basket yields up its bounty—containers of tahdiq and lamb,
dates and halvah, a blue jar of apricot juice—the librarian tells us
to take the food outside. What choice do we have

but to sit side-by-side on cement steps, trusting that this spot
belongs to no country, or maybe to both,
or perhaps it’s a land that appears only every five years or so
when the lost son steps out of his life’s story
and clings to the mother, each word passed between them
a droplet of nectar, unbearably sweet on the tongue.

Here with all of the wisdom of ages
surrounding us, Mother asks
would the librarian snap a few pictures?
Then she poses, her feet planted firmly on one side of the black line,
reaching out to h­er only son—me—
on the other.


Judith Harway is the author of the forthcoming memoir Sundown (Branden Books) and three collections of poetry: Swimming in the Sky (Finishing Line Press, 2014), All That is Left (Turning Point Books, 2009) and The Memory Box (Zarigueya Press, 2002).

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