Once Out of the Woods

A Poem by Colleen Kennedy

Once out of the woods,
my mother began to run

She didn’t stop as I slipped
and lost my footing

She pinched my chubby child’s hand
but didn’t lift me up

Muddied knees,
gravel embedded in corduroy piping,
arm wrenched

She screamed

Neighbors rushed out
to her aid.

My little hand was free from hers
and an older neighbor pulled me
into her home
–we all lived in small trailers
in a cul-de-sac of working-class poverty and generosity

Drying tears,
cleaning scraped knees,
administering vanilla wafers
and weak tea

Outside, my mother,
thinly waving her arms,
talking to uniformed blue,
a neighbor’s arm around
her narrow and shaking shoulders

I only barely saw the girl,
Her back and limbs,
Shimmering in her azure beauty,
Nude, submerged in the thawing river
Her hair a tangled nest of twigs and algae

And the air outside that morning
was brisk,
watering my eyes

My mother’s fear
stunk of sweat and menthol cigarettes

I couldn’t yet understand the confusion and need to escape—
neither my mother’s urge to flee the woods to safety—
nor the girl’s decision

But I sometimes think about
my mother’s hand dropping mine
once we reached safety
and the hand bobbing in the water

Previously, a university instructor of English and Theatre, Colleen Kennedy is the publicist and managing editor for Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where she is also a teaching artist. She has published arts and cultural interviews and reviews for District Fray, On Tap, Upstart, and Little Village, and academic essays for Appositions, FORUM, Shakespeare & Beyond, and The Recipes Project.

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