nun meets me at the station,    first month with carol and
dick reynolds.  set the table.  clean the kitchenvacuum.
thank god she didn't ask me to take care of the children.

i dry  dishes in the afternoon.   watch her can apples from
the backyard, put them in the cellar dark to save for winter.

why is everything so quiet?   why does the man come home
from school everyday at 3:30 and read the paper?   why a
different casserole on the table every night and everyone
eats one portion and one portion only?  why is there always
enough, but never too much. . .

try to understand this quiet, busy woman.   is she content?
what are her reasons to can, to cook, to have three children
and a pregnant girl in her house? try to be close, lie
next to their quiet ticking bedroom and hear no sound,
night after night, except soft conversation.   in the morning,
before light, i hear the baby's first cry.  i picture her
in there with her bra unhooked and her heavy white breast
like cream on the cheek of that baby.

inside i wonder what she thinks,  feels,  who she is.   and
every night it gets dark earlier, stays dark later.   i don't
want to wake up smiling at cereal, dark overshadows snow,
and a fear comes into my cold heart:  i am alone.

one afternoon, drying dishes, her cutting apples by the
sink, i ask her about college.   i picture her so easily
in penny loafers, peck and peck collar, socks, and a plaid
skirt on her skinny still unchilded body.   here she is today
with hips and breasts, a woman thirty who had taught school—
she must have some thoughts, some arguments and passions
hidden in this kitchen.

finally, she tells me her favorite book is the stranger.
we go and find it on the living room shelf.   i wonder,
though she never says, what she understands about
being a stranger.

i meet her mother.   all the same—they treat me all
the same: human.   i am accepted, never question who
i am or why.   never make me feel unwanted or afraid,
but always human love and never passion, never clutching
need, lopsided devouring want, never, not one minute,
extending those boundaries to enclose me. . .
                                                                                       oh soul,
                                                                                                       i feel
cold and unused to such space as breath and eternity
around me.

                             so much room in silence. . .

how will my house ever run on silence, when in me there
is such noise, such hatred for peeling apples, canning,
and waking to feed baby, and alarm clocks in the soul, and
in the skin of baby, in the rind of oranges, apples, peels
in the garbage, and paper saved because it is cheaper to
save and wrap and wash and use everything again.   and clean,
no screaming in that house, no tears, one helping at dinner,
and no lovemaking noises like broken squeaky beds.   where is
that part i cannot touch no matter where or how i turn,
that part that wants to cry: SISTER, and make us touch. . .

she is kind.   though i never understand such kindness,
cannot understand the inner heart of how and why she
loves: i am the stranger.
somewhere in the back of my mind, they are either fools
or the holy family, the way we all should be if we lived
in a perfect world and didn't have to strive to be loved,
but went about our quiet business, never raising our voices
above the rest, never questioning if we are loved, or
whether what we do is what we want to do, or worth it.

and if they are fools who don't have hearts or brains
or cords in their necks to speak,  then why have they
asked for me?   why am i in their house?   why are they
doing this?

one night in my round black coat and leotards, i dress
up warm against the constellations, go down the snowy
block alone in time.   i am only going to the drugstore,
but for some reason, the way i feel, pregnantly beautiful
walking into the bright fluorescent drugstore, it is
the most vivid night in my mind in the whole darkening

Toi Derricotte, "November" from Natural Birth. Copyright © 2000 by Toi Derricotte. Reprinted by permission of Toi Derricotte.
Source: Natural Birth (Firebrand Books, 2000)
More Poems by Toi Derricotte