(Cleveland, Ohio, 1950)Once upon a time
. Upon a time?
Something got on a time? What is a time?
When it got on a time, could it get off?
Could it get on a time two times? Three times?
Three times upon a time . . . Times on a time . . .
Three times on time . . . Or three times on three times . . .
I hear Jennifer's breath. Our room is dark.
Mama's voice questions and Daddy's answers,
a sound seesaw through the wall between us.
If there was, once upon a time, a fire,
and I could only rescue one of them,
would I save him, or her? Or Jennifer?Four-year-old saves three people from hot flames!
God bless Mama, Daddy, and Jennifer . . .Church
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1950)
Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea
from the bad city, like that angel said?
Poor Lot: imagine having a pet flea.
I'd keep mine on a dog. But maybe fleas
were bigger in the olden Bible days.
Maybe a flea was bigger than a dog,
more like a sheep or a goat. Maybe they had
flea farms back then, with herds of giant fleas.
Jennifer squirms beside me on the pew,
sucking her thumb, nestled against Mama.
Maybe Lot and his wife rode saddled fleas!
Or drove a coach pulled by a team of fleas!
I giggle soundlessly, but Mama swats
my leg, holding a finger to her lips. Called Up
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1951)
Folding the letter and laying it down,
Daddy says, "Well, Baby, I've been called back up."
Mama pauses, then puts my bowl of beans
in front of me. Jennifer eats and hums
across from me on two telephone books.
Mama says, "Pray God you won't see combat."Jennifer, stop singing at the table,
I hiss. Her humming's driving me crazy.
She looks up from her bowl with dreaming eyes:Huh?
Mama says, "My darling, we're going, too."Stop singing!
"I'll take a leave from law school,"
he says, "and you'll take a leave from your job."
We've been called up. Our leaves become feathers.
With wings we wave good-bye to our cousins.
Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Hadley Hooper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.