The most I’ve clung to my mother

except to devour milk from her breast

came at age 10 as we sat after supper

pitted against the pressure of a kitchen timer

to solve the daily newspaper word jumble

During one match she solved four-word jumbles

and the Secret Word in less than 25 seconds,

or maybe that is apocryphal


“Just horse sense, son,” was the way she led me

to think of mysteries


The woman born on a dairy farm with an outhouse,

well water and a wood stove, cuddled that winter

on a worn sofa in a living room of noisy children,

a baby on her lap, to show me how to become a scholar

with letters mismatched in tiny squares and a cartoon clue,

a piece of torn paper and pencil nub, a sharp grin,

and a race to the coveted answer


“Oh, son,” she teased, “how could you miss that one?”


“Oh, son,” she mocked, “How can you be so stupid?

The answer’s right here in front of you, mixed up is all,

and surely you can find it”