Somewhere Once

Paul Mariani

there was an island, a long island filled

with morning light and the kee kee song of birds. 

And on that island dwelt a family.

The father ran a shambling Esso station

and worked there eighty hours week

by week by week, though the mother worked

still harder. The kids (the seven who survived)


learned to read and write and add and in time

even to subtract, each diminishment reached

by slow diminuendo. The hardest thing

was learning how to do without: those extra

shoes and clothes and food and love

and waking to find each other there and safe,

those precious gifts that fold a family into one.


Still, ponder hard enough, you’ll find it was

there somewhere, especially with the mother.

And, count dime for dime, even with the father,

though it was that genetic oy ma you heard him

groaning night after night, that damp bath

towel swathed about his aching head.

A story told you come to learn ad infinitum


and, yes, if truth be told, ad nauseum.

Still, there was a hint of sunlight in the house,

a speckled grace rippling in the oddest moments

throughout those tiny rooms. And with it

flecks of laughter, as with any life, where

time enough is granted: the brothers’ joking

and the sisters’ smiles, if you only paid attention.


Then too soon the youngest one was gone,

a girl left to drift off and then away alone.

And now the oldest, learning how to live

with the stark reality of stage four cancer

as she smiles bravely from her hospital bed

to help us see the warrior she is. And so,

like so many other family tales, the story goes.


And here’s the thing: in time the island too

began to shrink until it disappeared

as the siblings drifted off, north or south

or west, until all at last left the island

they had once called home. Of course

there were family sightings from time

to time, even as the waves crashed


against the beachhead day and night, washing

away the island inch by foot by mile, until

at last it too was gone, taking the mother

first, kee kee, and in time the father too,

leaving in its wake only driftwood memories

and haunted thoughts of what might

have been, if only. But if only what?


Which is how these once-upon-a-time stories

often end, as the glow of all those yesterdays

falters, flickers and finally goes out. And still, still,

we hang on to that feathered thing called hope,

glimpsed in the budding lilacs and green green

grass: a call, a cry, a keen, even a hint of consolation,

kee kee, as once again the mourning son returns.


Paul Mariani


Paul Mariani is the author of twenty-two books, including six biographies, most recently Wallace Stevens, nine volumes of poetry, most recently All That Will Be New, as well as The Mystery of It All and Thirty Days. His poem “City Roofs, 1932” appears in the Summer 2023 issue of North American Review.