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Winter Solstice

Daniel Donaghy

She’d be early even in a storm,

sliding the fading Dodge Dart

behind snow plow and salt­ truck,

pink curlers in her hair,

steam rushing from the radiator

when she forgot to fill it,

something else to shake my head at

when I slid in beside her

two blocks from school

so my friends wouldn’t see us

driving past them

with one headlight out

and rust rimming the bumpers,

so they wouldn’t hear

the rattling muffler

or the engine’s tapping valves.

And did I say thanks

after she reached over

and unlocked the door,

did I say anything

the whole ride home,

breath fogging the windows,

sleeves wiping the fog away

until finally we pulled

outside our house

and I went up to my room

with the given that she’d be

early again the next day,

and these years later

as a good foot falls,

I know I’ll have to go

soon to get my daughter

at early dismissal,

that first I’ll need to dig out

the car and the walk,

that I’ll need to let the engine

and the windows warm,

which will take a while

on a day like this, everything

frozen, slate sky pressing

down like a hand just over

a stand of birch trees,

and I’ll remember

one January day

when the phone rang

and I drove six hours

through a snow storm,

and I’ll know again

I should have left sooner,

and I’ll hear her breathing

into the receiver

as I say I love her

and hear her trying

to say it back,

finger over the tube

in her throat

until she has to give up

and cough-gasp for air,

and I’ll hear my sister

tell me to take my time,

there’s nothing I can do,

and I’ll take my time,

and I’ll get there too late,

and I’ll know again

I’ll never be forgiven.

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