Aug. 25, 2005

The House on Broughton Street

by Mary Ann Larkin

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Poem: "The House on Broughton Street" by Mary Ann Larkin, from The Coil of the Skin. ©Washington Writers' Publishing House. Reprinted with permission.

The House on Broughton Street

Always it was a summer afternoon
I see my mother climbing the stairs
to the porch
My grandmother waiting
tiny but formidable
She'd been expecting her
the sisters smiling
brothers watching
My mother in her grey crepe
the white gloves she always wore
Her hair and eyes dark
among these fair, freckled people
My father shyly presenting her—
something of his own—
Shuffling, they made room for her
and she took her place among them
and between them
grew something new
Marie, they came to say,
This is Grant's Marie
She seldom spoke
but rested among them
a harbor she'd found

My father gave her a carnelian ring
surrounded by silver hearts
Before Grandma died
she gave my mother the diamond brooch
from Grandpa
My mother brought with her
fabrics that glistened
a touch of velvet
sometimes a feather
They noticed the light
in the rooms where she sat
And even thirty years later
after the lost jobs and the babies
after the mortgages and the wars
what they remembered most
was the way my mother
set aside her gloves

She was buried on Good Friday
There was a blizzard
After the funeral
the youngest uncle
read "Murder in the Cathedral" aloud

I have the carnelian ring now
the diamond brooch
I wear satin when I can
and I am attracted to old houses
where the light passes
across the porch to the windows, making
of the space between, a grace

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1944 that Paris was liberated from four years of Nazi rule. So many of the major cities in Europe were destroyed by bombing during the war, but Paris remained relatively unscathed, in part because the Nazis had marched into the city unchallenged, and the French, at least the French in Paris, had not put up much resistance. Many Parisians tried to be as accommodating as possible to the Germans. Most of the theaters and music halls, restaurants and cafés were open for Nazi soldiers and officers.

After D-Day, many people hoped the Allies would liberate Paris, but Eisenhower made a decision to go around the city. He didn't want to get bogged down there. And then, as the Allies got closer, the Germans ordered a 9:00 p.m. curfew on the city. The Parisians had not revolted against the German occupation, but the idea of a curfew deeply offended them, and the Paris police began collaborating with the French resistance. Fighting broke out in the streets. Hitler ordered the city be destroyed, but the German commander refused the order, and a division of French troops entered the city on this day in 1944.

Among the war correspondents was Ernest Hemingway, who said on this day, "I had a funny choke in my throat and I had to clean my glasses because now, below us, gray and always beautiful, was spread the city I love best in the world."

It's the birthday of the novelist Brian Moore, born in Belfast (1921).

It's the birthday of the novelist Frederick Forsyth, Ashford, England (1938). He's the author of thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal.

It's the birthday of Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918).

It's the birthday of the novelist Martin Amis, born in Oxford (1949).

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