The Moon and My Mother by Harper Follansbee, Jr.

Many years ago my mother wrote me a letter from Africa. I was living up north in a town near a lake, and every day I worked on a hill above the lake tending flowers for a man whose brother raised cows which grazed in a pasture on the side of the hill, and the water was blue, and the grass was green, and the sky was the color of the water and the sun shining down on the waves.

The night my mother wrote to me she was camped near a village on a plain, and she told how the moon hung like a huge yellow disc in the purple sky and how children from the village were watching their fathers and brothers dancing in a circle around a fire and how she joined them, holding the hands of the children who moved up and down to music no one could hear. And the children began jumping and gliding in a circle like the moon and the men around the fire, and my mother wrote how she found herself holding their hands and moving through moonlight, and everything was round and full, and men jumped and glided among themselves and the children were no longer watching, for they had found their own center and were orbiting that.

Now that my mother is old and her mind wanders, some mornings she awakens in her room and remembers Africa as if she were there, and she calls me and asks me when she is coming home, and I ask her where home is, and she tells me about climbing mountains up north with her father, how the two of them stayed in a hut at the Lake of the Clouds. Other times she speaks of war, of working in a hospital near London, of writing letters home for soldiers, how she kept a photograph of herself and one of those soldiers, the two of them smiling and walking together, and one of a field, the grass matted down as if animals had slept where she and her young man lay holding each other, watching the moon as it sailed through the sky like a ship on the ocean mounting the clouds like waves in a dream.

Sometimes when I find her sleeping, she reminds me of Santiago, the old fisherman, after he returns from the sea, after he catches the great marlin, after the sharks eat it down to the bone and its skeleton floats with the tide in the harbor and he lies on his bed in his shack with the boy standing in the doorway watching over him and loving him as the old man dreams of the lions on the beaches of Africa where he sailed when he was young, sleeping on the deck and smelling the breeze that carried the scent of his dreams out from the shore. And I feel like the boy looking down at the spent body of the person who has taught him all that he knows, for a moment imagining him gone and the world diminished beyond all recognition, and suddenly I want to rouse my mother, get her some coffee, drive up north for the day or plan a trip to Africa, just the two of us talking and laughing the way it always used to be. Instead she stirs in her sleep and her lips mouth words as I kneel by her bed and listen to her speak of a past she forgets and the moon.

Harper Follansbee, Jr. graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1971 with a B.A. in English. Before deciding on a career in education, he worked as a carpenter’s helper, painter, farm hand, mill hand, and green houseman in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. Starting in 1978, he taught English at the middle and high school level for thirty-four years. Presently, he composes poems, flash fiction and grammar exercises and tutors students in writing. His first collection of poems, In the Aftermath of Grief, was published by Antrim House Books last spring. He is married and lives with his wife and youngest son in Windsor, Connecticut.

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