Sometimes, on evenings like this, my mother will speak of Tom Scott,
going down to a place inside her beyond the river's high reach,
to a place where grief has no pallbearer except the river;
and I know she is thinking of that threadbare year of Depression, the year
my mother was released from the egregious care of the mother
superior, smiling for a portrait of the student body

in a coat purchased with the sale of a calf's stiffened body.
Or was it the color of her hair that pulled Tom Scott
toward her, the fox-collared coat being my grandmother's
idea of what a perfect lady of fashion should wear, past reach
of a farm girl's dreams-or anyone's-that year
in Kentucky? As she walked on the banks of the Ohio, I think the river

must have been my mother's only true friend, the river--
slow current, its tracery, feeding my mother's love-starved body
as she waited for something to comfort her face, and her freshman year
beau, a writer of talent, a man named Tom Scott,
cut rushes on prayerful diagonals along the river's high reacha
bouquet for the girl who suggested that my mother
be segregated from those who did not work. My mother,
the poorest girl in her sorority, waitressed at the river
cafe, working more shifts as she struggled to reach
the nickel she needed for graph paper, the twenty for Kotex, her body
a calendar, bleeding her, despite her good Scot
thrift, into greater and greater debt. The year