Wednesday Poem: The One and the Other

The child hums as he carries, too late,
his grandmother’s sugar-dusted lemon-glazed cake

down the street to the neighbor who needs to be cheered,
too late for the neighbor

who’s stepped into the air
of her silent front hall from a ladder-backed chair

her church dress just pressed, her head in a loop she tied
into the clothesline, too late

he unlatches the gate,
walks up the brick walk on his tiptoes, avoiding the cracks

toward the door she unlocked, left ajar, who knows why
or for whom, if on purpose

or not, but because he’s too late
she’s gone still when he reaches the door and because

he’s too late, as he calls out and looks, brilliant sun
burns through haze

pours through sidelights and bevels
through chandelier prisms, strikes white sparks and purples

on ceiling and walls, on the overturned chair, on her stockings
her brown and white

spectator shoes on the floor
and because he’s too late he remembers both terror and beauty

but not which came first. But enough of the one
that he ran

and enough of the other
to carefully lay down the cake at her feet.

–by Hayden Saunier
from Rattle #36, Winter 2011 | Rattle Poetry Prize Winner

Hayden Saunier: “I love the way objects and people and ideas find their way together in a poem. An old friend sent me an outrageous pound cake at Christmas and when I described it as sugar-dusted, lemon-glazed, the story of the boy in this poem, told to me years ago, came straight to my mind and stayed there. It was all in the cake: that sunny yellow circle with its center missing, dense, empty, bitter, sweet, the gestures we make too late, the child’s ability to take in everything at the same moment, at once and complete: It was all in the cake.” (web)