by Susan Elbe

Inner Harbor

A piano player dingled “Music of the Night”
in a Baltimore hotel lounge
where my cousin rained on me chilling stories
of a father numbed by drink,
backhanding a hard life he never dreamed.

The harbor, cold slop,
and its ships, gouache of snow, so much snow
it could have been Wisconsin
where one night our family secrets stepped,
wary and sloe-eyed,
into the white arc of our headlights.

Later at the conference I had come for
I listened to a panelist
describe the pre-word limbic brain—
fight or flight in the amygdala
and in the seahorse-shaped hippocampus,
memory—trauma often leaving us
electric but dumbfounded.

I never knew about the pip of fear in her,
the flinch and brawl
within walls she called home.

I never made it to Beyond Imagination
to see seahorses and seadragons,
only each night watched
the sizzle of blue neon waves
on Baltimore Aquarium's drear wall.

The secret she kept years,
that silence,
an intricate and eerie Tiger Tail,
suspended in her mind’s aquatic dark.

First appeared in Smartish Pace