Donut Delite: 1969
All summer I tossed wheels of dough
into a sea of grease, where they browned
and crisped while I smoked half
a cigarette. By the time the owner
stopped by, the air would be humid
with sugar, the bakery cases filled with rows
of doughnuts I’d frosted and sprinkled.
He’d pull a buck from his wallet to pay
for his cruller, his cup of coffee, and show me
the photo of his son squinting into the light,
smiling like a man who didn’t know
he would die at Khe Sanh.

On my last day the boss pressed
a wad of bills into my hand and kissed me
goodbye. When he slipped
his tongue into my mouth,
I could feel the old dog
of his heart rear up and tug
at its leash. His breath tasted
like ashes. He was my father’s friend.
I was sixteen and didn’t understand
yet how life can kill you a little
at a time. Still, I kissed him back.
After we buried my mother, we drank beer
and told stories in the room where she’d died.
The hospital bed was gone and the portable
commode I’d helped her settle on, the love
seat tucked flush with the window again, long
sofa shoved against the wall like always, the same
sofa where she’d fall asleep watching baseball
while she waited for me to come home from
some high-school date, and once, when I wasn’t
home by midnight, she threw a raincoat
over her flannel pajamas and drove around
until she found me mussed and unbuttoned behind
the Big Boy, sharing a bagged can of Colt 45
with the second-string quarterback. All the way
home and for an entire week, I was punished
by silence, a vast black void of disgust. The last time
I saw her, I wanted her to speak to me, to lock
the front door and turn off the last
light, to follow me upstairs, having made
the house safe for the night. But she didn’t
know who I was.
I’m driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words She died alone
without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention —
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice
ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m OK.