|Nebraska Center for Writers|
Four a.m. this morning, I’m frosting cupcakes|
for my daughters to take to school. I am one
among many Earth women who wear the cape,
as Mother did when career-minded was a venial sin.
A mother of four, her teaching degree
was traded for a 30-year membership
in the secretarial pool of the state’s agriculture
and purchasing departments. Her check bought
groceries, laundry detergent and Christmas presents.
At four a.m., my mother’s cape resembled
a fuzzy, white robe with missing bodice button.
Kitchen hums of Nearer My God to Thee
and Would You Like to Swing on a Star
did nothing to lure me back to sleep.
I secretly watched her knead yeast and flour
into the large, yellow bowl used only for bread
dough. With each push, tug or turn of floury paste,
her worn suede slippers, with flat, fleece lining,
shifted against the linoleum like salt shakers.
Knead and tuck. Knead and tuck.
Turn the bowl and knead, then tuck.
Cinnamon rolls with icing, buns soaked in butter
or French toast in stacks covered the breakfast table.
My sister and I would lap up the syrup or lick off
the frosting while Mother sifted through a clean laundry
basket and pulled thighs into pantyhose a regular Lois Lane.
Far from the yellowing glow
of bugs in backyard farm light,
sister and I lie listening,
our bodies ‘tween blanket and sky.
A concerto of crickets, whispers from maples,
faint call of a wandering calf.
Our teenage minds muddle our own insignificance
yet that which seems so monumental.
Boys and our brother, parents and Providence,
which Dipper contains the North Star.
We point out the paths of firefly flicker,
paint stories 'bout car passersby.
We giggle with nonsense at jokes without humor
and laugh that we giggled at all.
Old sparklers add brizzle of burning magnesium;
our names disappear in their flare.
The cool air gives goosebumps.
Talk turns sporadic.
It’s time to fold up,
MY LAST CHILDHOOD
In mother’s Indian sweater, I stand next to you holding|
seashells on an Atlantic beach in Jacksonville. The
afternoon is as grey as the ocean behind us that layers
the sand like frosting then disappears under itself. It
is one of three photos I have of you and me together.
Your black cowboy boots, polished; your brown
leisure suit hangs like Sunday on your frame. This is a
special occasion, this trip to Florida, where you spoke
to your peers about arresting those who drive high.
This is the trip where I called mother names in my diary,
rolled my eyes until they were sore. The trip where
I stared at the penis of a man standing alone behind
our hotel near a dumpster. The trip where I ate
shrimp and grew three years while sitting in a Louisiana
hotel window, feeling jazz for the first time. The trip
where we detoured through Kentucky’s dew green pastures
blotted with chestnut thoroughbreds, then swallowed our
stares at the busted clapboard shacks thrown like black
checkers away from Georgia’s white money.
You called it a family trip, pretending it was as fun as the
journeys we took with my sisters and brother to Wyoming
and California, those two-week, summer vacations where
every night meant a new K.O.A. campground. I remember
it as the trip of my last childhood.