My Mother’s Arms

by Tom Bajoras

I remember
the smell of a 1965 perfume,
my mother buttoning my shirt
and sending me off to school.
I remember
reaching for her;
I remember her backing away.

If it was sunny I would skip school
and walk around the lake.
I learned lessons there
that weren’t taught in classrooms—
lessons like
you’re only as strong as what you can’t feel.

After years of study
I became an expert
in not belonging anywhere,
least of all in my mother’s arms.

I walk in a field
where the lake used to be,
and I arrive at a place, somewhere
between forgiveness and understanding.
Though the lake is gone,
it still teaches:
It teaches that
lessons can be unlearned;
wounds can heal.