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Sub Rosa

I spent my childhood in a world of imaginary
swings, the rope lines frayed, the base a heavy board. I’d do magic
higher than tree tops, high enough for the burn
of gravity to jump. I’d stay outside all day until my mother
called. I knew a grave waited below me, the circle
of my half arc broken as I descended. I never heard piano

music, except my own. Forced to practice piano
I’d take forever to let the swing stop, my hands cut on imaginary
rope. I’d sit at the keyboard playing whole note circles
while she cleaned the kitchen. I didn’t know the magic
of music, or jazz, or even Bach. My mother
watched the news. I’d stay outside with grasshoppers burning

through sun and grass; when I caught them, they’d burn
red squirts from their heads, a warning the piano
didn’t give. I’d fall swinging, into the silence of my mother
and know I’d been buried. I had many friends, all imaginary.
One was hit by a car and died. I resurrected her with magic
words of light. She played with me in the tar bubbled street, circles

we’d pop until our hands were black. Hail storms made circles
on the tin house we lived in, the world coming to its burning
end. My father raved. The future, he knew, held no magic.
I held the corner of my pink blanket and listened to the piano
playing of my mother at night. A line of twisted notes, imaginary
tree shadows outside my window, moonlight cracked. My mother,

lost to me like endless highways. When I became a mother
I carried my child around everywhere, showed him the semi-circle
the birds flew above the crest. I filled his imaginary car with imaginary
gas and he rode the arc that ascends. The air held me close and I burned
the bridge to his father, underworld sibilance. Late at night, piano
notes saved me, the way they slip in and out of light, their magic

yes. My child and I would stay out after dark, magic
beings on swings. Sand and leaves in my hair, mother
fierceness like a bear protecting her cub. We had an imaginary piano
in a colonnade at the park, he’d walk up into the half-circle
and play an imaginary song by throwing flowers. Every night I’d burn
a candle for him. I emerged from childhood an imaginary

creature, cold fingers, no place for hope. Now I’m a mother, imaginary
savior between cottonwoods. I half-circle back to the magic
I’m on, the piano I play. My son is older now, and plays music like a burning tree.

  1. Paul Godwin on

    a tricky reminiscence and how is it that my world held tar bubbles and swings that played opposite my piano tutelage, mother in the kitchen as my secret audience – these points polarities for child artists who want to be artists sooner than children.
    thank you Lindsay.

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