After Julia Kasdorf’s “What I Learned From My Mother”
I learned from my father his Golden Rule: he who has
the gold, makes the rules. I learned to nod attentively
to bosses, to take open shifts
whenever they called, to walk with a purpose.
I learned how to play chess on the porch
of our old brick house and how to put
off and off replacing its bowed railings
until the rest of the bills were paid. I learned
to pack cardboard boxes full of toys and books
and chessboards, to help my mother uproot
the crepe myrtle she had planted in Athens
after I was born. I learned how to replant
at each new house near each new store
my father managed – clothing stores, book
shops, farm suppliers, restaurants. I learned
about red tape and exactly how far up
the ladder one can climb without a degree
that says you know things. I learned
the time to look for a new job is while you have one.
I learned to take what I found; hoist
watermelons at summer markets, clean
neighbors’ houses and iron their Sunday shirts,
keep glasses full of water waiting eight-top tables.
Like a martyr, I learned that we ourselves are all
we have to give and, once you know this,
you can never withhold. To spouses, sons,
and daughters, you must offer your time, your own
comfort, the warmth of your palm pressing theirs
when they, too, do whatever it is they feel
they have to do.