by Darrell Bourque

Since that afternoon years ago
when my mother put us on our knees
and told us she was leaving,
I have placed myself in the world,
measured myself against the horizon,
let the sky cover me like some angel bird
hovering. I have seen wide ribbons
of pine making a trot-line at the earth’s edge.
I have studied things up-close; stunted trees
growing out of rock. I have gone beyond
tree lines where grasses open seedpods
like prayers. I have stood at the water’s
edge and wobbled, and still no one
knows who knifed the unreadable lettering
on my mother’s new cedar chifferobe
that day. She and my father drove to town
to buy garfish for our usual Friday supper
at my aunt’s house. We were questioned again
on her return but no one confessed -through
the fish cleaning, the seasoning, the frying.
I can’t remember when exactly we laughed
and ran through the yard with our cousins.
It was night when we went home. We were happy.
Just last week, some fifty years later,
one of us brings it up in my mother’s
presence. She has not walked for years
and it is no big matter to her now,
but none of us are fessing up today either.
We all know who didn’t do it,
and one of us knows who did.

Bourque’s poem tells the story of a couple of naughty children and a chifferobe that got in the way. Growing up on a farm in Sunset, Louisiana, gave Bourque plenty of fodder for writing. His poems have titles like “Cane Field Haiku,” “Friday Night Fish Fry,” “French Lesson,” “Old Women Fishing From Bridges” and “The Jax Beer Softball Team.” While obviously set in his childhood home, with references to distinctly South Louisiana traditions like frying fish on Fridays and running around with cousins, the theme of Bourque’s poem “Scratch” is universal. No matter where we grew up, we all keep secrets from our childhood and will have to decide one day whether or not to confess them.

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