The Gathering by Joyce Ritchie

The Gathering

Now, in the dark months of the year,
the child appears, unbidden,
slipping through shadows of memories,
slightly anxious, striving to please,
an invisible presence in the brightly-lit kitchen,
and later at your right elbow when you sit at the dining room table.

Look carefully at the faces around the festive table.
The ghostly gathering changes year to year,
spirits alive in laughter and aromas drifting from the kitchen,
familiars carried throughout the house, unbidden.
Now raise a glass to toast unpresent friends, please,
who all, for good or ill, have shaped our lives and memories.

The distance between the child and today is measured in memories:
the year young cousins copied heirloom recipes around the table,
the year the child abandoned all pretense of attempting to please.
The child—the keeper of secrets year to year—
knows time turns memories to legacies unbidden,
and the real stories are told among the women in the kitchen.

Old and new are blended in the kitchen,
each stirring a spice-scented swirl of memories.
But will it measure up? The hovering child’s fear, unbidden,
dissipates amid the happy chatter at the table.
Now sons become the fathers year by year,
and daughters hear a mother’s voice in every please.

Come gather by the fire if you please.
The crackling hearth now draws us from the kitchen.
We’ll share stories that will mark another year
and make another child’s memories.
The ghosts have gathered from the table
and dance in flickering shadows, unbidden.

And now the child appears again, unbidden,
to take the measure. Be forgiving, please.
Look back again around the empty table
as evening’s light glows golden in the kitchen.
Be still and hear in silence, memories
old and new, another year.

Another year and the ghosts arrive, unbidden,
a gathering of memories. Please stay awhile,
come sit a spell with me and talk like we used to at the kitchen table.

by Joyce Ritchie

Editor’s Note: This sestina moves delicately through time while touching on how the relationships that make up a family can be both complicated and precious.

Happy New Year!

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