Farmer’s daughter, I
never knew what it was
to live alone for more
than twenty years, to live
in a house other than the one
my late husband the judge
took me to fifty years ago,
me no longer a new bride
but still thin-waisted,
hair lustrous enough to shape
into a beehive. I had cat’s-eye
spectacles, and I could pencil
a beauty mark on my cheek.
I did not have to figure
a tax return, did not have
my own bank account. My fingers
flew at the Singer sewing machine,
my feet sure on the treadle, working
on notions, silk, pin money. The wives
and daughters of mayors and councilors
sought out my smooth Peter Pan collars,
my keyhole necklines, the sharp darts
that lifted their breasts to daring.
I learned their common language at tea
and soirees, learned to buss on the cheeks,
Darling, sweetheart, always a pleasure
to be here and see you. Now I am shrill
at eighty, clutching my purse and keys
to my chest, never letting them out of sight.
I don’t understand piety anymore— no matter
how often I recite the prayers, they are bitter
and loud, louder than the wind in the trees
and their echo without cease in my ears.
In response to Via Negativa: Esprit de corps.