To the market, I say to you, only to the market.
There we will buy only the things we need, and then we will return home.
And, knowing your eyes, I know the lie in my remonstrance;
for I have never been able to resist you
in your puppy looks as you plead silently after sweets
and caress with quiet longing the blister-packed toys.
We are not rich but we have soap,
which you hate,
as all boys do.
It is a small luxury I can afford, an easy price
to see you gleam.
The one penalty for going to the market
you accept with little grace,
but some tolerance, showing me you have washed
and I remind you that Allah loves the cleanly.
Then I must be very beloved indeed, you say.
Such truth in your complaint.
Dressed simply, fragrant with soap, my wealth,
you wait beside me for the bus,
your eyes bright but tainted with the fear
reflecting from my own furtive watch of the neighborhood.
It is not as it was, and I can no longer say
with the surety I once held
that our lives are better now.
But someday, son, I know
this will cease; you will one day be happy again,
your life — simple now, even still, even amid this —
filled with the simple trials of school
and girls and, one day,
marriage and grandchildren for me to relentlessly spoil,
and you wonder a little at my smile as you see it,
and smile back, tentatively, your hand slipping into mine.
So little you know.
So few heartbeats you have had.
I say I love you.
Then, you insist, with the logic of the young,
you must buy me a —
No, I say. No treats this time.
You didn’t wash up properly after supper last night
and you are still being punished.
We both know this means nothing.
Grunting along the patched, roughhewn macadam
the bus growls up its gears, and there is a crack and shudder
a blistering flash of time
scintillating around us as life becomes shattered,
glass diamonds glinting cold,
rubies bright across my eyes.
Your hand, in mine, loosens.
And I cannot hold on to you.
I wanted to say, I wanted to say —
so fast, you were away so fast, your eyes frightened, and I wanted to say —
How many nights did I hold you thus as your heart beat so fast
and rock you as you wept, comforting you, easing your childish fears
of the distant cracks of doom,
whispering into the cup of your ear that we were safe
within the walls of our home?
It has, it has ceased.
I cannot hold on to you.
Bathed now, cleaned now, safe now from any more harm,
I leave you to move once more, numb, into the world of light
and sweets and toys,
and if only I could, my son,
I would buy all of them for you
just to feel your hand stir once more in mine,
your puppy eyes aglow.
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