The Willow and the Lilac

Joan Aleshire

Sometimes, he said, she beat them

with willow, for the smallest things;

sometimes she beat them with lilac —

rougher, harder — for the larger:

a woman too old to raise

these children left by their father,

adrift on their mother’s rage.

The willow whipped, but bent

in its green lengths against

their bare bums: poor cheeks

bluing, bruising before her.

The lilac banged and scraped —

With willow or with lilac: could this

be true, or another of his tales?

Maybe his grandmother grabbed

a stray stick or piece of kindling;

in any case, they cried, by all the world

forsaken, wrong without knowing

why; knowing only how hurt

was done. And hurt in their own

turn as soon as they could, as much.

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