His Mother Married a Latch-Key
by Maria Elena Caballero-Robb

    His mother married a latch-key. Before it cranked
    in the lock, the boy and the neighbor girl played all afternoon
    in bed, tented the sheet over their knees,
    pretended to be dead, then he
    would be father and she mother to toy families fashioned
    out of plastic houses, stuffed animals.

    His father didn't come home on time,
    so the woman made a bonfire of his books, who were her enemies.
    She and the two children squeezed
    past each other in the hall lugging stacks of books to the patio.

    She barked commands, her skirt slapping
    like a flag in the March wind, blouse billowing, going slack.
    Before she lit it he came home. She beat his chest and pulled his hair,
    then fled to her bathroom. The neighbor girl ran out.

    Next door, after supper she thought of them, the squares
    of winter light, bluish in late afternoons, trapezed
    across the floor. They played there,
    migrating with this faint geometric warmth. They watched
    the sun scrape the building tops
    quick as a belt striping low across sky.

    Then she came home,
    drew the curtains like a magician, disappearing
    the world of parking lots, neighbors, school.

    That night, the neighbor girl listened,
    hunched in her room by the wall that was the wall
    behind the boy's bed. She could not hear
    the boy. She waited for the noises
    of his apartment, furniture scrapes, shouts, the tiny roar
    of a live studio audience reaching her
    like a cord let down a well.
    What had he done
    this time? Where was that voice coming from?
    Someone spread-eagled on the carpet in the master
    bedroom, a back painted with the belt strokes.

    She made a tent out of the sheet, and a strong quiet
    fell on her like a smell. If she could stay still long enough,
    not scratch or flinch until some grace
    came over her--the future would arrive
    as suddenly as a light flicked on, and fill her
    with her share of height, weight,
    and hair, and she would get up and walk a woman.

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