Praise my old friend Betty, pretty as ever, henna
hiding the gray, who gets me out on the dance floor
doing the shug, who whispers that Ruth, our yearbook queen,
joined Right-to-Life and married a millionaire.
Who says, I remember kneeling in the kitchen — Dad, Mom,
me and my sisters — saying the rosary so the union wouldn’t strike.
Who says, No money coming in. Kids, rent. My dad
meaner than hell. Who says, It’s not that I forgave.
But I began to understand.
Who says, What’s the big deal, your dad
against the union? It’s not your story — strikers
getting shot, that helpless saint.
Who drives with me to Rose Hill, holds my elbow
as we walk the rows of identical markers.
Who says, He’s got to be here someplace.
And with the severing of my head,
I lost all memory.
I forgot it was my mother
who governed the blade.
I forgot I had a father
who could’ve saved me, but couldn’t.
No, I dreamed there was a father
who wanted to save me,
buried inside the father
ruled by the blade.
I forgot who was who,
who looked the other way.
I cannot find my father’s grave.
When I’d left for the reunion, Mom warned me
not to talk to Ruth. Mom still thinks
I should’ve been yearbook queen — and not
just because I’m your mother. An abortion clinic
up in Akron, she’d heard on the radio, was bombed
last week. Don’t talk to Ruth, she said.
Praise Ruth, whose mom — a twin to mine — was
a real purse-clutcher, twitchy, always checking out a room —
and loud, always saying weird things,
Ruth, who’s glowing now, silk burgundy
befitting the wife of a millionaire, who says
Christ saved her marriage,
who when I say I work in “women’s
health,” reverts to her high school self,
reaches to pat my shoulder, stops
mid-air before the touch. Who says,
I guess we’re on different sides of the fence.
Who says, I hope you still like me.
Sue D. Burton | Hold That Tiger
Contents | Mudlark No.60 (2016)