So often I think of everything I cannot tell you,
everything that will not translate across time.
If there is a camera, let it catch us, so you may see something
of this story that you are in when you are outside of it.
Let whatever it catches show you how you were loved,
a still of you, pulled up onto my lap, laughing.
In raising you, I track back. Over my shoulder, I see
the whole country behind me as I beat out a new path.
My mother tells me about when they’d all been taken away,
how her mother came to the schoolyard fence,
and Aunt Jan stopped short, said,
Better not. There’ll be trouble.
My grandmother, looking at the backs of her girls
receding, her heart walking out of her chest.
And now, all the time, mine’s broken
and mended, broken and mended,
I do not understand. But know this:
everything that I want for you is for you alone.
Bring me back with a kiss, my sweet boy.
There is this love. No other.
What stunned me was to learn that to love you
I had to ask for better, then to make it,
then better what I had bettered.
This doesn’t stop.
I pull you up because you ask me Up,
and up up up I will pull you.
Church and Island
Walking ahead, the church called us
in from the distance.
When the sun went down,
we looked up, the spread of stars
over Mont Saint-Michel
fine and wide as the path we took
across the mudflats at low tide,
before the water made an island
for us, before we climbed
every last step to the abbey,
glimpsed the drawn sword
of the archangel. Did I know then
that you, too, would be a place
of worship and protection?
Walking away, our island behind us,
held and released for as long as
the waters come. Worship and protection,
your hand encircling my waist before
the tide rises. You held me there.
You hold me, still.
You’re humming through the streets,
self-lit. I have to correct strangers
who touch your head without asking,
as if to bless you or to take a blessing from you.
When we leave the city, you become
a boy hunting locusts. Nature stuns you—
you load up your pockets and want to bring it
home with us, but Nature stays with nature, I say,
a refrain learned from another mother.
You cannot be unpuzzled by things,
but you marshal all your sweet bravado for me,
who tries but never beats you in a game of chess.
I witness the rook and Queen
moving inside your thinking, squaring
and hewing to pathways of wins, losses.
Childhood’s end is always menacing,
apparent places of stars mark its outer limits.
It heaves up in you when you lose,
when you rage, when you’re afraid.
Glowering out of a fever dream, your eyes shine
as you confess in the dark I was the monster.
You show me a hornet’s nest on a bed of cotton,
hold it up as an offering. I wonder with you
at what you hold—
summer rivers that show bracken corners,
eye agate marbles,
daggerwings of our days in the city
built of strangers,
in a country built of sky.
When I pull you close,
what will flee trembles in you.
“Up” was originally published in We Call Them Beautiful (Diode Editions, 2019).
“Church and Island” was commissioned for the 2020 Valentine Campaign run by Emotive Fruition (now Poetry Well).
“Self-lit” was originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 13, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
KC Trommer is the author of We Call Them Beautiful (Diode Editions, 2019) and The Hasp Tongue (dgp, 2014) and is founder of the online audio project QUEENSBOUND and former curator of the Red Door Series. She is drafting her second collection of poems, “Paragones,” which looks at the work and lives of female-identifying artists from across the globe. KC is Director of Communications at International House and lives in Jackson Heights with her son.