NIGHT TERRORS

     Whose voice is it in mine when the child cries,
     terrified in sleep, and half asleep myself I'm there
     beside him saying, shh, now easy, shh,

     whose voice?--too intimate with all the ways
     of solace to be merely mine; so prodigal
     in desiring to give, yet so exact in giving

     that even before I reach the little bed,
     before I touch him, as I do anyway,
     already he is breathing quietly again.

     Is it my mother's voice in mine, the memory
     no memory at all but just the vocal trace,
     sheer bodily sensation on the lips and tongue,

     of what I may have heard once in the pre-
     remembering of infancy, heard once and then
     forgot entirely till it was wakened by the cry,

     brought back, as if from exile, by the child's cry--
     here to the father's voice, where the son again
     can ask the mother, and the mother, too, the son:

     why has it taken you so long to come?

     - Alan Shapiro
     The Atlantic Monthly, December, 1995