Small and soft, it stretches
to fit all corners. Young mothers
trade off the leavings and collect
dimes and quarters to buy milk.
I kept the piles of clothes, the gently
used rattle in the crib, the only place
I could think of. I had to remember
to peel off the masking tape prices
before washing, even though
I was sure the past moms washed
everything twice. To prepare
also means to crib, that palm-sized
paper with all the answers written
with the sharpest pencil in mouse
print. The answers were supposed
to be all in our heads, but people
did it any way. I did not, not even
once, not because I was uppity,
but because I was never sure
what the answers were. There were
so many, and so many of them
were right yet counted as wrong.
I still smell the milky sleep of babies,
that deep siren scent that draws
women to hold them tight, put
nose to downy hair and breathe deep.
Men don't do this. None I know,
at least. I am one child short.
We meant to have that last baby.
I still see the curve of his back
propped in the air in sleep, but
the marriage ended in shambles
before that baby was more than
a whispered thought in an unseen
room. Tiny hands curl and uncurl,
the very beginnings of counted time,
the measure of a limitless present.
Why didn't I write the answers down?
I now long for the possible yes.
Each speck of sun on the floor shifts
the afternoon until it hits the wall.
Lanette Cadle teaches both rhetoric and creative writing at Missouri State University. Her poet site is at poet.lanettecadle.com and her academic blog, "Just a Blog," is at lanettecadle.com. She has previously published poetry in Weave, TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics, Menacing Hedge, Yellow Chair Review, Rose Red Review and Stirring.