This Life

—after Sharon Olds, “I Go Back to May 1937”

What if my grandfather hadn’t spotted
my grandmother that late October morning
at the market in Dresden
while she was searching for the ripest apples?
They might not have fallen crazy in love
and sailed off to Ellis Island
before all they knew became ash.

What if their son hadn’t gone to Jones Beach
that sweltering August afternoon
and spotted the woman in the red bathing suit,
her wet hair glistening from sunlight and salt?
What if she hadn’t smiled back?

Sometimes I wish I had been there
at that golden moment, told my mother,
Don’t do it.
Your life will be as tumultuous
as the crashing waves
if you don’t look away.

But then, my dear soul,
where would you be—
trapped in a meteor’s fiery core,
or moored to earth as a tiger,
a robin rustling its scarlet feathers
in its nest woven from grass,
a girl without papers snatched
from her mother at the border?

And then, my blessed sons,
where would your souls be,
and your children
and all theirs not yet
a blink in time’s eye?

Will they want to be human again
or be born as something else
next time or after that,
never forgetting the quick flash of gold
of a butterfly landing on a leaf,
the night ablaze with stars?