Marie Howe

The Spell

Our four-year-old neighbor Pablo has lost his wand
And so he tries to cast spells with his finger
Which doesn’t seem to work as well.

Then he brings handfuls of dimes and nickels to the couch
Where I’m sitting, and when I say, Give me some money,
He says, No, laughing.

Give me some money, I say,
And he says, No.

Then he draws, on a piece of paper, a circle with a 10 inside
The word No, an unhappy mouth and eyes,
And gives that to me.

Why not ask the wand to find itself?
No, he says, shaking his head slowly.
Why not make a spell that will find it?
No, he says, that won’t work.
What about this stick? His mother says, holding up a chopstick.
No, says Pablo, who knows the difference between what is secular and
What is sacred.

Every day when I pick up my four-year-old daughter from preschool
she climbs into her back booster seat and says, Mom—–tell me your story.
And almost every day I tell her: I dropped you off, I taught my class
I ate a tuna fish sandwich, wrote e-mails, returned phone calls, talked with students
and then I came to pick you up.
And almost every day I think, My God, is that what I did?

Yesterday, she climbed into the backseat and said, Mom
tell me your story, and I did what I always did: I said I dropped you off
taught my class, had lunch, returned e-mails, talked with students…
        And she said, No Mom, tell me the whole thing.

And I said, ok. I feel a little sad.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, ok Elise died.

Elise is dead and the world feels weary and brokenhearted.
And she said, Tell me the whole thing Mom.
And I said, in my dream last night I felt my life building up around me and
        when I stepped forward and away from it and turned around I saw a high
        and frozen crested wave.

        And she said, the whole thing Mom.
Then I thought of the other dream, I said, when a goose landed heavily on my head—
But when I’d untangled it from my hair I saw it wasn’t a goose but a winged serpent
writhing up into the sky like a disappearing bee.

And she said, Tell me the whole story.
And I said, Elise is dead, and all the frozen tears are mine of course
and if that wave broke it might wash my life clear,
        and I might begin again from now and from here.

And I looked into the rearview mirror—
She was looking sideways, out the window, to the right
        —where they say the unlived life is.

Ok? I said.
And she said, Ok, still looking in that direction.