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Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Banana Boat

for Jeffrey Harrison

I once sat on a stone wall built by my father
and looked across our green plush lawn, waiting
for my mother to come back to me by boat, sailing
forward through the swamp in back of our yard,
up onto our lawn, a boat filled with gifts for me,
filled with my mother, her arms outstretched,
my pretty mother would wade out into the rays
of our yard’s private sun and run to me, up
the stone steps to where I sat squealing to be lifted
by her forever, lifted and adored for she had been
gone two weeks on a banana boat to Panama and so
the boat I waited for was yellow and filled with bananas
and I looked through the pines that bordered our yard,
into the swamp of frogs and snakes that froze over
in winter forming a fine skating pond—I looked
for the banana boat and would not come inside for lunch
but ate outside a sandwich and punch and stretched out
on the ledge and cried myself to sleep, my oldest sister
carrying me inside, stroking my whole body out of tantrum,
my beloved babysitter twirling my hair into banana curls
every day, until my mother arrived, by car, parked
in our circular drive, and opened the front door
and it was a lovely two weeks with the babysitter whom I loved
almost as much, wasn’t it, and wasn’t I taller now, and my hair
longer, and my skin brown from the sun, and more freckles,
and look—a banana necklace I would keep under my pillow
and worry with my fingers into tangled knots for decades
as I struggled to sleep each night, but couldn’t, and can’t now
because I wait and wait and wait and wait for his return.

Martha Rhodes is the author of three collections of poems: At the Gate (Provincetown Poetry Series, 1995), Perfect Disappearance (New Issues Press, 2000), and Mother Quiet (Zoo Press, 2004). Her work has appeared in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Fence, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and many other magazines. She is director of Four Way Books and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She lives in New York City. (updated 6/2010)

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