Our Parents by Stephen Dunn

Our Parents
Stephen Dunn

Our parents died at least twice,
the second time when we forgot their stories,
or couldn’t imagine how often they craved love,
or felt useless, or yearned for some justice
in this world. In their graves, our parents’ need
for us is pure, they’re lost without us.
Their honeymoon in Havana does or does not
exist. That late August in the Catskills—
we can decide to make them happy.

What is the past if not unfinished work,
swampy, fecund, seductively revisable?
One of us has spent his life developing respect
for the weakness of words, the other for what
must be held on to; there may be a chance for us.

We try to say what happened in that first house
where we were, like most children, the only
needy people on earth. We remember
what we were forbidden, who got the biggest slice.
Our parents, meanwhile, must have wanted something
back from us. We know what it is, don’t we?
We’ve been alive long enough.

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