The Healing Silence
By Joseph Hutchison
January 15, 2023
January 15, 2023
… this silence, in which everything
that remained unspoken
was somehow shared.
I had an early flight but couldn’t sleep, and so
joined my night-owl Dad at the kitchen table. We
relaxed a while in the stove-hood lamp’s wan light,
sipping day-old coffee stiff enough, he said,
to stand a spoon up in. We chuckled, then fell silent—
our old habit. How far back did our silence go?
I said, “Tell me something I don’t know.” He looked
puzzled. “Grandpa,” I tried. “We never met.”
Dad,” he said. “I remember his hands, his broad back.
He liked to lift up big things—sacks of beets,
the end of a hay wagon—just to show off. You’ve
seen his picture, the one with that tow-headed kid
on his lap, the son he had with some other woman.
The boy looks maybe five, so Dad must have been
about half the age that I am now. Those faded
bib overalls with all the pockets, I think
he wore them every day, and that greasy gray
newsboy cap. His hands there are thick as mine.
Thick as yours, too.
He worked hard.
they all had to work hard to feed their big families.
We were seven—the five girls, my brother Verne
and me, the oldest. I was eleven, so when Dad left
I tried to look out for the rest. Mother turned to her people,
but when she married Dad they cut her off. Y’see,
he wasn’t German. So Mother had to take a job
at the canning factory. Left us kids with Dad’s Dad—
a cruel guy, sick in the head … who one time piled
chloroformed rags under our beds to kill us.
Mother asked a neighbor who spoke better English
to tell the police. When they came knocking, grandpa
bolted out the back. And when the policemen saw
that Mother spoke German—we all spoke it at home—
they called Child Welfare. A few days later a lady
came by, and that night we heard Mother cry in her room.
Around New Year’s two men showed up, and Mother
The men drove us down to Denver,
dumped us in the State Home for Dependent Children.
We didn’t know the Home kept Mother from us. Where
was she? What was she doing? Days went by. Weeks….
When May came, the Home sent me to live with a family
over in Montrose. I worked there five years, and came
to feel they were my people, even though they made me
sleep in the barn because they had a young daughter.
The year I turned sixteen they sent me back. Broke
All those years we had no idea
where our Mother was. I like to think she kept
fighting for us. The Home told us nothing, even
after Mother caught TB. It took her fast,
I heard later. Heard her people gave her a decent
funeral service. I sat by her grave at Fairmount once.
Well, with Mother gone, the Home adopted us out—
except for me. Who wants some teenage boy around
causing trouble? At least I got to keep our name.
The rest got other names.
I went on to high school,
milked cows at the Home at dawn and dusk, earned
a diploma. Later I ran away and rode the rails.
After a while I joined the Navy—and like the posters
said, I saw the world. But that’s another story.
After the war, I started trying to find my real
family. All those changed names made it take
ten years, but in the end I found them. Every
last one,” he said, then looked away, eyes
damp. He flashed a thin, joyless smile. And then
the healing silence came and spoke for us again.
Joseph Hutchison, Colorado Poet Laureate (2014-2019), has published 20 collections, most recently Under Sleep’s New Moon; The World As Is: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2015; and Marked Men. His poems have appeared widely in journals—including Adirondack Review, New York Quarterly, Naugatuck River Review, and Pedestal—and in numerous anthologies, including New Poets of the American West and A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford. He directs the Professional Creative Writing online program at the University of Denver’s University College and lives in the mountains southwest of Denver.