Family Secrets

My mother taught retarded kids
for 25 years. That’s what people
called them back in those days.
Even mom. It wasn’t an insult.
Just a statement of fact. She’d spend
all week teaching Albert to count out
35 cents: a quarter and a dime.
By Friday, he could buy his own lunch.
By Monday, he’d forgotten it all.
She’d have to start again. She did this
with Albert for years. She’d laugh
when she’d tell me the story of Albert,
but she never gave up on the boy.
And Albert had it better than some.
He wasn’t stuck in a wheelchair,
didn’t crap in his pants or wave
his arms around like he was being
attacked by a swarm of wasps.
My mother loved those kids,
and she was good at what she did.
Once I asked her how she managed
all those years without succumbing
to despair. Teaching retarded kids,
she replied, was easier than dealing
with her husband and four sons.
I thought at the time she was kidding.

W. D. Ehrhart’s most recent collections are Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems (McFarland, 2019) and Wolves in Winter (Between Shadows Press, 2021). His website is