“Why You Travel” by Gail Mazur from Zeppo’s First Wife: New and Selected Poems. © University of Chicago Press.
Why You Travel
You don’t want the children to know how afraid
you are. You want to be sure their hold on life
is steady, sturdy. Were mothers and fathers
always this anxious, holding the ringing
receiver close to the ear: Why don’t they answer;
where could they be? There’s a conspiracy
to protect the young, so they’ll be fearless,
it’s why you travel—it’s a way of trying
to let go, of lying. You don’t sit
in a stiff chair and worry, you keep moving.
Postcards from the Alamo, the Alhambra.
Photos of you in Barcelona, Gaudi’s park
Swirling behind you. There you are in the Garden
of the master of the Fishing Nets, one red
tree against a white wall, koi swarming
over each other in the thick demoralized pond.
You, fainting at the Buddhist caves.
Climbing with thousands on the Great Wall,
Wearing a straw cap, a backpack, a year
before the students at Tiananmen Square.
Having the time of your life, blistered and smiling.
The acid of your fear could eat the world.
I love this grimness, this “postcards from the freaking edge” feel, the knowledge that she travels to look like she’s more a blithe soul than her reality. So familiar. Wishing you were here, love…