The angel of self-discipline, her guardian
Since she first knew and had to go away
From home that spring to have her child with strangers,
Sustained her, till the vanished boy next door
And her ordeal seemed fiction, and the true
Her mother’s firm insistence she was the mother
And the neighbors’ acquiescence.
So she taught school,
Walking a mile each way to ride the street car—
First books of the Aeneid known by heart,
French, and the French Club Wednesday afternoon;
Then summer replacement typist in an office,
Her sister’s family moving in with them,
Depression years and she the only earner.
Saturday, football game and opera broadcasts,
Sunday, staying at home to wash her hair,
The Business Women’s Circle Monday night,
And, for a treat, birthdays and holidays,
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald.
The young blond sister long since gone to college,
Nephew and nieces gone, her mother dead,
Instead of Caesar, having to teach First Aid,
The students rowdy, she retired.
For the empty rooms she gave to Thornwell Orphanage,
Unwed Mothers, Temperance, and Foster Parents
And never bought the car she meant to buy;
Too blind at last to do much more than sit
All day in the antique glider on the porch
Listening to cars pass up and down the street.
Each summer, on the grass behind the house—
Cape jasmine, with its scent of August nights
Humid and warm, the soft magnolia bloom
Marked lightly by a slow brown stain—she spread,
For airing, the same small intense collection,
Concert programs, worn trophies, years of yearbooks,
Letters from schoolgirl chums, bracelets of hair
And the same picture: black hair in a bun,
Puzzled eyes in an oval face as young
Or old as innocence, skirt to the ground,
And, seated on the high school steps, the class,
The ones to whom she would have said, “Seigneur,
Donnez-nous la force de supporter
La peine,” as an example easy to remember,
Formal imperative, object first person plural.
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