Parents Poem

By Jacqueline Woodson

When people ask how, I say
a fire took them.
And then they look at me like
I’m the most pitiful thing in the world.
So sometimes I just shrug and say
They just died, that’s all.

A fire took their bodies.
That’s all.

I can still feel their voices and hugs and laughing.
Sometimes I can hear my daddy
calling my name.
Lonnie sometimes.
And sometimes Locomotion
come on over here a minute.
I want to show you something.

And then I see his big hands
holding something out to me.

It used to be the four of us.
At night we went to sleep.
In the morning we woke up and ate breakfast.
Daddy worked for Con Edison.
You ever saw him?
Climbing out of a manhole?
Yellow tape keeping the cars from coming
down the block.
An orange sign that said Men Working.
I still got his hat. It’s light blue
with CON EDISON in white letters.

Mama was a receptionist.
When you called the office where she worked,
she answered the phone like this
Graftman Paper Products, how may I help you?
It was her work voice.
And when you said something like
Ma, it’s me.
her voice went back to normal. To our mama’s voice
Hey Sugar. You behaving? Is the door locked?

That stupid fire couldn’t take all of them.
Nothing could do that.


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