Mudlark No. 60 (2016)

The Headless Woman

Sometimes when I do my Headless Woman gig, 
I think about the American dream.

In Britain, I hear they dream about the Queen.
And her little dogs. But over here —

you’re roaming the halls of Washington High, 
late, and you can’t find the room 

for your history final, having ditched
class for months, the books

long-gone, and you can’t think of your history teacher’s
name — Miss Somebody who got in bad

with the school board for thanking God in class
when Kennedy was elected. 

What, me, Clio of Ohio, late for history?
The recurrent American dream.

Praise the sleepwalkers, always reaching 
for something, punching in, punching 

out, sometimes here in the dark I read their stories
with a flashlight. They sleep but they don’t 

dream. A “functional” problem. They walk, 
they talk. They don’t have dreams. 

Did my father have dreams? 
The litany of jobs — Goodyear Aircraft: tool maker, 
plastics, foreman. Before that, WPA (roads), 

mechanic, machinist, railroad fireman, teacher 
(fired for smoking in the can). At 20, 
basketball scholarship to Ohio State,
but couldn’t afford to take it. 
His mother had just married Mac, 
couldn’t help him out. Ten years later, 

she wanted to leave Mac (beat her), 
had her bags packed, but no place to go — 
my dad had just married my mother.

Faded photograph on my mother’s dresser: 
Dad leaning on a prop plane, leather helmet, 
goggles — handsome, rakish, 

must’ve been near 30 — but 
he’d had rheumatic fever as a kid, 
couldn’t get a license.

And with the severing of my head, 
I lost all memory.

I forgot the dishes hurled against the wall,
the scissors, the sharps.

I forgot the summer I was seventeen
when my mother talked to the dead

and wouldn’t get out of bed.
I forgot I was the spitting image of my dad

who cried when I sang on stage with my high school class
because I looked so much like his mother.

I forgot. I forgot.

I had no head.
How could I remember?

I know during the Depression
he ironed his one pair of pants 
every night with the palms 

of his hands. I know in Ohio, 
hillbillies like him were “snakes
in the grass,” whether they 

scabbed or not, whether they 
twanged or not.
I know he didn’t trust doctors.

I know she functioned. 
But couldn’t he see — ?

Sue D. Burton | Clean Fill
Contents | Mudlark No. 60 (2016)