Ola

By Joshua Riley

I’ve seen her in my sleep;
I’ve walked with her in my dreams, but I didn’t know her face.

Seeing her in the face of her daughter –
I struggle to place the eyes.

I knew her when I was young,
and the winds of the memory rushed me like a heavy current –
– beckoning me backwards.

I want to keep my head above the water of my thoughts.

Their images crawl across the screen of my mind.
Their home movies linger like the taste of something
sweeter than you expected.
The teal cars, rounded head lamps and glasses,
straight cut skirts and Easter jackets –
– the strangling vacancy of post-war peace Army housing.
The emptiness sits with me now.

The people on the Island are going back to work.
This morning I got my first call to substitute teach,
and I am pulled back to the main land,
I have things to do, and this trip is over before
it began.

She sways in the sun at Yellowstone,
grabs her elbows behind her back at Disney,
chases her boys in gardens,
swims in her red swim suit and painted lips.

I watch the story of the family I never knew
unfold 8mm’s at a time, like the minutes of
a meeting I didn’t attend but shaped my life.

I looked from the outside and tried
to peek over the hedges and what I saw
I was allowed to see. A family, young,
before the jolt that would sink these people.

The video only records happy incidents of
this family with cake and car rides
swirling past us in a silent fast-forward.

The film stops.
My grandmother dies when my father was young.
Just before this a little girl who came late
in the recording dies, and leaves the stage
before her story began – foreshadowing
a great end for this family.

We have to put on our business suits and move.
Go to our own meetings,
Smoke our cigarettes before we get on the ferry,
now we can think of the things left untouched –
– until we are ready.

A single thought can sink a man –
A memory run him aground –

There is no sound, but I can hear Ola humming,
singing softly to me.
I imagine she sung, probably when she was alone,
just barely above a breath.

No sound comes now, of the party-makers,
the car-horns, or the wind rushing past their
open windows in their early 60’s sedan
on their way to Vermont or Victoria.
They careen across our expansive land.
They are from Alabama.
I am from Illinois where my mother
took me after her and my father’s ship had sailed.

My father comes to Illinois once when he was young,
the scene doesn’t last long.
We might have been to the same place at the same age,
Lincoln’s childhood home –
But I went there without him,
maybe I should have looked for his ghost.

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