Imitation

by ALAN SHAPIRO

An early if not the earliest memory: while she is making something on the counter in the kitchen, I’ve pulled a stepladder to the counter in the pantry and in the dark climbed up onto the counter. I’m standing on the counter tall as she is now, up among shelves of cans, small jars of powders, different kinds of bags and boxes. Because she pours white stuff onto the counter, I find a hard swollen bag with white crystals on it on a chest-high mostly empty shelf. I tear open a little spout like a paper teapot “short and stout” and tip it over, pouring out what looks and feels like sand. The sand is sweet. I can see her from behind; she’s beating the white stuff, pounding on it with some kind of hammer over and over until little puffs of snow fly upward and hang there around her shoulders like a see through shawl. With fists, I pound my pile; I batter it. The grains are scratchy but I don’t stop because she hasn’t stopped, which means what we are making isn’t ready for the next thing we have to do to it to make it what it will become. I love her so much I punch it, I slap it, I bang and bang until there is a cloud around me too filling the dark pantry, a whiteness that’s so sweet and thick I’m coughing, out of which suddenly I’m yanked down into being small again. Look at the mess I’ve made! What was I thinking? Dark as the highest shelf I’ll never reach, what happens next is gone, lost. The story breaks off into nothing. Or whatever it was, or may have been, can only be imagined through the lens of other later memories, and the trace of memories, and the stories pieced by need together from those traces, replacing them, replacing those, until whatever it is I’m seeing is being seen through the wrong end of a sixty mile long telescope, a mile for every year: like microscopic dolls in a dollhouse in a dollhouse—a tiny barely visible mother shakes a baby too small to see, hand hard as bisque now scrubbing him down until his skin is red and raw, before sending him to bed though it’s only afternoon, the blinds drawn, the door locked, so he can lie there in the dark and think about the what for he’ll sure as hell be getting when his father hears about what he has done.

ALAN SHAPIRO has published twelve books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel and Night of the Republic, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize. He teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.