Adolescence doesn’t wear a smile in our old photo album – stares fixated on unseen lint – distracted, we three sisters, all reeling from the cold, unwell, immobilized…
What is absent is the photographer whose pointed directions critique each decision – a derisive repetition that eats at our souls, each girl wrestling with self-nurture vs self-annihilation, landing somewhere in between – mannequin targets for male abuse…
Oh, I tried to take up arms, rail against the dominance, the oppression, but only succeeded in settling for disconnection, while one sister turned tricks for attention, the other retreated into full dependency, her madness, out of date, nevertheless relevant – despite our tormenter’s death, the images are permanently recorded in that old photo album.
In anticipation of guests, the hostess – always bent on pleasing – carefully selects the script, ascribes roles, envisions an afternoon of light repartee, peppered with philosophical pondering – satisfactory entertainment.
They’re just family, after all, she tells herself, confident in the outcome, fatally smug.
Crowd arriving, she fails to read disinterest in eyes, politely attempts to orchestrate interactions, while they cast about, calculating, shunning protocols of etiquette, dispersing in an unsettling way, then returning, savagely encircling their prey.
They’re just family, after all, she tells herself, panic rising, confusion overriding confidence.
Unprepared to defend herself – bears no arms but the giving type – she ducks, grasps, attempts retreat from the onslaught of vindictive agendas, but the wall of stored grievances, spotlighting a history of injustices, corners her, hopelessness in its wake.
They’re just family, after all, she tells herself, knowing full well the legacy of pain.
It’s friends, in the end, who save her – a surefooted cavalry, bearing the swords of understanding, compassion their war cry – reigning in the once-invited, now betraying guests – objective hearts demanding an end to the fray.
They’re just family, after all, she tells them, tells herself, composure a mere thread.
Tables turned, the offenders now plead for forgiveness, beg for help, pretend the slights were unintentional, harmless, expect their hostess to step over the bloodied and slain bits of herself, and with benevolence, restore her love for them again.
They’re just family, after all, she says weakly, the torn script of her expectations scattered.
(My art, entitled She Stands In the Middle of It All. This poem first appeared May, 2016)
If I were a kitchen, I’d want an old-fashioned woman at my counters – rolling dough canning pickles, chutney, jam, homemade pasta sauce, and every Sunday, a roast. She’d wear her sweat like a saint, ignore her aching back – one practiced hand feeding her Carnation baby, while other children flocked to Formica, hot flesh sticking to vinyl as they picked at fresh made sweet buns, the pot on the stove perpetually simmering.
Or give me modern efficiency – ninjas and presses, air fryers and induction cookers – let the children belly up to the breakfast bar, chomp on veggies and humus, while cook totes baby in a sling, and preps bone broth, strains of Baby Einstein emitting from a propped up iPad, while a cellphone vibrates on granite, and the Keurig spits out Starbucks Pike.
Just don’t abandon me, piles of unopened mail, or tossed aside receipts company for coffee rings on my counters. Please don’t litter my surfaces with rotting takeout containers, or dishes caked with processed cheese – don’t leave my stainless steel sinks stained, spoiled food reeking in the refrigerator, traces of late night mishaps curdling on the floor; absence of familiar sounds declaring my presence invalid.
Calm, the morning air, mind lost in reflection, mirror-still waters
Raise my eyes skyward, pray for release, an end to Mother’s suffering.
Nothing. Death has its own rhythm – emotions mud.
(I wrote this poem a year ago, when my Mother was in and out of hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. Now, a year later, she continues to struggle. “We live too long,” she says. “Pray for my release.” Photo: Mom at 94, courtesy of my son.)