Flying from Lisbon to Rome I sat next to
one of those short, elderly ladies in black
who live up to every Portuguese stereotype--
she even pulled out a rosary for takeoff--
and because she fit my expectations
so perfectly, I loved her immediately.
So when we were served
milk for our coffees in foil-lined packets
and she leaned over and placed
one papery, liver-spotted hand on mine
asking, Açucer? I wanted so sincerely
to help that the word in Portuguese
flew out of my mind.
I moved my hands as if milking a cow.
Ah! she brightened. Leite!
Of course! Pronounced like light.
She brought me to my childhood kitchen,
where my own grandmother left out
a glass of milk for me each day
that shone so brightly in the morning sunlight
that the milk reflected a halo against
the wall behind it, a half-moon
of fulfilled expectation, and I would stand
on that tan linoleum blinking,
struck dumb with happiness.
Author Discusses Poems