Fascinator

This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2016

Today this old-
fashioned word in a novel
I’m reading trembles

into view— fascinator
and immediately I remember
how my fingers fashioned

years ago from feel,
from scraps of ecru brocade
and lace, a little pillbox

of a hat with a hint
of veil, for my cousin
Cristy. She wore it pinned

to one side of her head,
to top off a modest skirt
and suit of plain beige.

It was a rushed wedding,
before her papers cleared
for her transfer to a hospital

in Saudi, before the seams
of her white nurse’s uniform
started to strain

at the seams around her belly;
before we learned the man
she thought she married

was already someone
else’s spouse. All she’d ever
wanted was a life outside

her mother’s tiny two-
room flat a street away
from where we lived,

a life for which she’d saved
every last coin toward that
plane ticket out.

It was she who’d taught me
how to wrap the blood
pressure cuff around

my father’s arm, pump
the bulb, slowly loosen
the valve then wait

to read the two
points where the needle
came to fitful rest

on the manometer’s face—
Systolic pressure in the arteries
when the heart muscle contracts,

diastolic pressure between beats
as the chamber fills with blood.
Two syllables separated

by barely the space of a sigh;
head slightly tilted to one
side as if already weighted

with ornament. If she
who was so good at listening
had not been able to catch

all that lay
beneath the surface,
how could I have hoped in my

own time to intercept the messages
that spun in circles, that would seem
to scintillate for me and me alone?

 

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