Some nights when I’m half-asleep,
I hear Mama’s voice say my name.
Other times, it’s Daddy, calling out.
I awake, half-expecting to find
myself again in the back yard, hiding
behind the overgrown honeysuckle
intertwined and clinging to chain-link.
Mama holds open the kitchen door.
Or Daddy unlatches the fence gate.
And I, a half-wild child, emerge,
long dark hair tangled with burrs,
palms and knees stained red with clay.
I want to say these are memories
but they may be hallucinations.
I’m uncertain about the difference,
just as I was uncertain where I was
when I awakened from a book,
one or the other saying my name
harshly: Your granddaddy is talking to you.
Papa’s voice, I don’t remember.
Only his decrepit hands, flashbacks
to the laundry room or the storage shed
where he lured me with the promise
of puppies and leeched my girlhood instead.
Sundays, Mama cooked deep-fried chicken
collard greens, field peas, and cornbread.
These smells could be memories or dreams.
Sometimes, I awaken at night, craving
a full belly, sleep-walk to the kitchen,
awaken to find it dark, empty, and useless.
You need to come home, Daddy says,
his voice cracking over the phone.
Come home, Mama says, half-asking
half-telling me what I should do.
But home is twenty-seven years ago,
and I’ve been departing ever since.
I’m a memory to them. They’ve hung a ghost-
portrait of four-year-old me over the mantle,
a kind of memorial to the child who never returned.
When I’m visiting, sometimes I get lost in that girl—
remember the blue barrette clipping her dark hair
to one side, the indigo dress she wore for Easter—
until I awaken to my reflection in the curved glass,
startled by the stranger I’ve become.
Tonight, I sat in a field of wildflowers
lacing the stems and weeds into a wreath.
The river runs just north of the field
and the old bridge where I once balanced
along the broken planks is still there.
I left the field, flowers crowning my head,
and I balanced again upon the bridge,
trying to get to the other side.
Come back, they call to me.
And I awaken, sit up in bed, wildflowers
falling from my hair. I am half-wild
and smelling of earth and honeysuckle.
I rise and run to them.
© Ami Mattison