by Dede Cummings
The child asks me to remember the code name,
glitter, that she will use in case she gets abducted,
in the worst possible scenario; but I see that
the mother stands by proudly, beaming at me,
her crossed arms bounce up and down, to ward off
the chill of the September day in Vermont. She sighs
and knows that I know her cancer has spread, and is
all sealed up inside her like a bruised apple, hardened and sore.
I repeat the code name, glitter. The child looks up at me—
the tilt of her head by the horse farm manure pile is just
slightly inclined—sizing me up: respected neighbor,
confidant or predator, teacher and slow learner,
fellow apple picker and horse stall-mucker,
snow-shoer, future pallbearer. She knows, too.
I lean toward the right to match her incline—
we make a good pair with equally rowdy dogs
dancing by our sides: and the child asks me,
again, to remember her code name. I do.
From To Look Out From. © Homebound Publications, 2017.
Reprinted with permission.
The act of memory is perhaps the most potent way we keep those we’ve lost still alive and close to us. Dede Cummings, the author of innumerable moving and tender poems like this one, has etched this portrait of a dying friend not only into her mind, but also into the minds of her her readers. The truth of the poem is undeniably difficult, yet we understand that this child’s focus on her possible kidnapping, and the code word to be used in that “worst case scenario,” is a way of distracting herself and everyone else from the distressing reality at hand. Perhaps the hardest, most heart-rending part of the poem arrives with that simplest of sentences: “She knows, too.” Though we try to protect them, children absorb far more than we give them credit for, and ultimately, this poem captures a moment of unspoken recognition and acceptance among these three people. The cancer may be waiting in this woman’s body, “sealed up inside her like a bruised apple,” but for now at least, they are on this horse farm, guarding themselves against the chill of an autumn day as “equally rowdy dogs” dance around their legs. For now, the idea of disappearance is merely that, and they can stay focused on the “glitter” of the present moment they are creating together.