This close to the border it shouldn’t
have mattered, her sudden lapse,
the strange resignation. Even the wind
from the west seemed loose
and easy, sweeter somehow, as if
baggy in its molecules. After all,
she was eight miles (just eight miles)
from Lake Constance, the Bodensee, the boat
she was sure to find, passage she could
surely purchase for the price of her family’s
silver, her mother’s ruby bracelet.
Perhaps she didn’t mean to do it, an action
like instinct in reverse, the swift river
beneath the bridge, the Alps draining
in early spring, snowpack loosened
by a week of warmth. Her child
was swept away before a cry could dent
the still-cool air, a cry she couldn’t afford.
It was all shutting down she’d heard, the lake
held in silence these days, the ss just listening
more than anything. “You should hear it,”
a man had told her. “What?” “Nothing.
Not a sound.” So how could she take a baby across?
This close to spring and Switzerland, to her
sister, who’d left early and easily, this close
to escape and an end to silence, she heard instead
her daughter slip into it completely.
Did she follow her child into the river,
barter what was left on the banks of the lake?
Did she scream until they heard and came?
The mother of my children says I need them
too much, that I rely on the small sounds
they make as they sleep. She says
it isn’t healthy. So I am trying to imagine
a choice I couldn’t make, and then imagine
past it. If we are made of memory,
if history can save us, then why not
remember one life among the many
thrown away, simply thrown away?
Does it matter if I’ve made her up?
Is there anything worse, really, than what’s
happened, what’s happening now.
So I rely on them too much.
But does memory end at the edge
of every imagined memory?
She threw her baby in the river,
then walked the rest of the way to the lake
in silence. Her sister never heard from her.
James Harms is the author of seven books of poetry including Comet Scar, to be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. He is a recipient of an nea fellowship, the pen/Revson fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes, among other honors. A Professor of English at West Virginia University, he also directs the low-residency mfa program in poetry at New England College.