|Garrison Keillor and George Bilgere: A Prairie Home Companion, December 10th, 2011|
I’m helping my brother-in-law
Knock apart an old table
By the tool shed, a table they’ve loaded
With planting pots and fertilizer bags
For years, until a decade outside
In wind and rain has done it in,
And suddenly, as in a myth
Or fairytale when the son
Recognizes his lost father under the rags
Of an old beggar, I realize
It’s the kitchen table of our childhood,
Where my mother and my two sisters and I
Regathered and regrouped inside
A new house in a new state
After the divorce, where at the end
Of every day
We talked about our day,
Practicing our first fictions
Over pork chops and mashed potatoes
When mom had a job, or fish sticks
Or fried Spam, or chicken pot pies
When she didn’t.
Where we dyed
Our Easter eggs, and played through
Rainy days of Scrabble.
Where I sweated over algebra
And German verbs, and our mother
Would drink a bottle of wine
And lay her head down and weep
Over everything, terrifying us
Into fits of good behavior,
Of cleaning and vacuuming, until
She snapped out of it,
As if nothing had happened
And made it up to us
By doing something crazy,
Like making pancakes for supper.
The table where my uncle
Got me drunk for the first time
And where I sat down for dinner
For the last time with my grandmother.
The table where my sister
Announced she was pregnant.
Where I said that, on the whole, Canada
Looked a lot better than Vietnam.
Where the four of us warmed ourselves
At the fire of family talk.
Plain brown table of a thousand meals.
I’m starting to sweat now, the hammer
Overmatched by iron-grained walnut
Bolted at the joists. It takes a wrench
And crowbar to finally break it down
To a splintered skeleton, to the wreckage
Of an old table, built
When things were meant to last,
Like a hardcover book, or a cathedral,
Or a family. We stack up what’s left
For firewood, and call it a day.
Corned Beef and Cabbage