by Ellen Bass
Bass. Mules of Love. Worry
"You always think the worst is going to happen," Janet says as we walk with our son along the Amsterdam canals. "What do you think—he's going to fall in and drown?" I have worried all over the world. It comes to me easily. Formed slowly through childhood like stalactites in a cave. My mother worried to keep going— a sick husband, the store, children she wanted everything for. I call her distraught. Janet's been dizzy for days. In the E.R. they inked small x's on the parchment map of her skin. Her doctor's at a conference in Paris, and I'm afraid there's a blood clot near her brain. "Go buy a plant," she says. "I'm not going to die." My mother tells me I learned it from her— how to panic. She was thirteen, oldest of five, when her father left. My grandmother worried to keep food on the table. Every week she'd board the bus to buy dry goods, children's clothes, socks to sell in her corner store. When she didn't climb down from the six o'clock—winter, it was already dark—my mother sat in the window, tears rumpling her face, praying, Let her come home. And in Russia—my father was a baby when his mother carried him and two brothers to the border. Hiding in the forest undergrowth, my father crying, she heard boots bite through the crusted snow. Some women smothered infants. What must have gone through her mind when the steps hesitated, before turning away? Janet doesn't think about what might happen. She thinks about what is. But I carry dread on my shoulders like a knapsack, like the extra pounds my grandmother wanted me to gain. She'd read about a girl in a plane crash. All she had to eat was snow.