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Harvard Classics, by Henri Cole

February 25, 1996

It is the hour of lamps.

On our knees my mother

and I, still young, color

with crayons threadbare nap

on the livingroom rug.

Though there is no money,

no one seems to care. We

are self-possessed as bugs

waving their antennae

through cracks in the kitchen's

linoleum floor. When

Father begins to read

from the red gilt volume

in his lap, a circle

of light encapsulates

us like hearts in a womb.

Except their marriage is

already dead. I know

this though I'm only six.

So we visit Pharaohs,

a boatman on the Nile,

Crusaders eating grapes

on a beach. Life escapes

with all its sadness while

two tragic Greek poets

inhabit Father's voice.

Who'd know I'm just a boy

when he begins in a stoic

moral tale concerning

a dull provincial doctor's

young French wife. When Mother,

in French, begins to sing

to herself, I know she's

had enough. Crayon stubs

litter the crumbling rug.

Our prostrate cat sneezes

at the dust in her fur.

And cries from a swallow

remind us one swallow

doesn't make a summer.

From "The Look of Things," poems by Henri Cole (Alfred A. Knopf: $20; 71 pp.). Copyright 1995 Reprinted by permission.

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