Bio Note: I enjoy being with trees, books, cats, chocolate, and my husband, preferably all at the same time. One of my poems was longlisted for the Fish Publishing Poetry Prize this year, and some have been produced inside of taxi cabs, and even decorated the hind quarters of city buses. I'm not a monogamous writer; I work on 7-11 poems at one time.
Hello, Bertha; What's Up, Mildred; You Don't Say, Gladys
My elders wore housedresses with white anklets and sensible shoes, occupied rockers or stood at stoves, those women of the 1950’s relegated to the perimeter of my playland before vanishing to graveyards in their sixties. At 66, despite my ability to still sit cross-legged on the pier, zip blue jeans, play croquet with the younger generations, my niece’s husband drops mention of my name from his roll call line-up as we mallet our way across the lawn. He focuses instead on his own offspring whacking their way up the hill, shepherding the youngest, separating competing interests among daughters. I thwack my ball through the last remaining wickets, and like a leak in a water tank, trickle away unnoticed to the rear of the boathouse. Clustered there are those buxom elders in their checkered gingham, smirking gently, waiting for me.
While You Watch Your Mother Dying
you see that gangly black poodle a neighbor sheared when you were small, his hand passing over the gleaming purplish body till it sat bald and exposed. You didn’t know dogs could look that ugly, and you had ventured to the far end of the block to see it get shaven without letting your mother know. Next the walking of San Francisco into a museum featuring Andrew Wyeth paintings; you were there with the boyfriend your mother wanted you to ditch, never knowing you kept him in your life for years beyond high school. Then comes the muffin paper cupping peanut M&M’s at the first birthday party you got invited to attend, how they clacked against your teeth before you crunched the shellacked shell apart, your tongue’s own secret party. This was before the birthday girl bit you, clamped her teeth on your upper arm and sunk them in, an infraction her mother begged you to keep from your own mother, your sleeve long enough to hide this trespass. And here you sit as she takes her last surges of breath, just as she was there for you when you took your first, the only person– despite all you kept from her–to know you like no one else ever will.
You don’t marry the man; you marry the family sounded as clammy as the weight of wet bedsheets, cumbersome, confining, chilling as sleet. Yet before the wedding, I came to learn that holidays happened with all generations, homemade rhubarb cobbler and lemonade; any whiff of a sister’s budding romance earned teasing and sly interrogations; that publications, promotions and other achievements met a groundswell of applause. There were the old stories from childhood– the peaches in crates under bunkbeds at the cottage; sisters in fisticuffs over “borrowed” dresses; that their mother strained Coke through a handkerchief when the glass thermos broke at the movies. Stories recapped so many times till it seemed I had been there and lived them myself, like I, too, had grown up in their Wisconsin farm town, not my suburb on Lake Michigan. Or that I swung on two playgrounds that day Kennedy got shot and died on camera; Trick or Treated both Union and Wesley streets; played Spud under double the streetlights. And in decade #4 knotted tight as his wife I’m well-versed in the dip of the gossip bucket, feel pride in the skills of athletic grand-nieces, confide freely in brothers-in-law. For what once sounded like a Doomsday warning turned out not to be treacherous at all, those bedsheets woven with merino and silk, sun-washed on clotheslines, scented with cedar.
Originally published in an anthology on marriage by Pure Slush Books
©2022 Shoshauna Shy
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