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more poetry

Dr. Ashlie Sponenberg

Summer 2004

A Family Scrapbook

October 4, 1973

I think of her on her back
in a white cotton nightgown,
though she must have been naked
because she was married. Her hair
would have been washed, parted down
the middle, two panels of brown
silk hiding her face. I imagine
her sliding
until she was horizontal
when he entered the room, her
hair wrinkling, her body opening
up under a blanket, the way
it was supposed to, at least
for tonight. The pillbox was open,
a plastic mouth and a ring
of pastel estrogen teeth; the pill
had been removed -
but where is it written
that I have to swallow it
tonight, she wondered,
her eyes rolling toward the ceiling,
toward god, toward the man on top
of her - my father, he became
my father that night. I think
her arms must have wrapped around
his shoulders, squeezing him tight
in her secret, silent joy.

Still Life With Mother

1967: she would be twenty-two
in this picture. Her brown hair
touches her waist and her eyes
don't focus on anything.
She got married the day before,
because she was ready to try sex.

There are no more pictures
for the next six years.
Her husband got drafted
and after her first three nights
with a man
she is sleeping alone again,
cooking quick meals
in the smallest pots,
inside the metal
trailer walls.

1974: her husband has been back
for awhile and she's been
taking pictures every day
of me.
I'm dressed in a different
baby outfit
in each one,
tucked into a white plastic
car seat too big
for my six pounds,
at the end of their rust-
colored couch.
In the lower left corner
there are always
Pampers, Desitin, baby
wipes, baby thermometer,
baby Tylenol, my brown pacifier.
I'm blue around the edges
from the glow of the TV,
always on. We spent
a year and a half
on that couch, all day,
till Dad came home.
While I sat there
with fists curled under my chin,
was she curled into a knot
at the other end of the couch,
afraid for me because
she was the one God gave me to,
did she wonder if I
could sense that she
was crazy and
incapable of her job,
did she cry louder than me
the morning she realized
that we were stuck there
and when she held me
was it like
hugging a best friend,
waiting for me to
talk back and
give her advice?


On our tummies on the sticky green bedroom carpet,
her arm over my small body, her fist surrounding
my gripping fist, we pushed a fat Snoopy pencil to trace
the dashes she'd drawn on white construction paper,
stopping where I did not want to stop, forcing our pencil
to jump gaps until the spray of lines that had once resembled
the bitten impression of very crooked teeth or an array
of staples became the pieces of my name.

Hail Storm

Only the double-glass
Of our storm doors separates
Us from the weather we watch.
Mama predicts the merciless
Hailstones will crush shrubs, spring
Shingles free, smash up all
Local windshields.
My brother and I
Are trapped by her elbows,
My sister hooked in her lap;
She says we'll dash out
And be concussed. But daddy
Is like us: cannot resist
Those battering ping-pong balls
Covered with the ash from
Mount St Helens.
Her mouth stretches to scold just as
His arm slings the door aside, and
Icy marbles staccato
Across the kitchen.
He risks the bruises, scoops
Through the drift, rejoicing in
The rounded clacking, pinching
One hailstone to pitch at the dark sky.
We watch its angular
Ricochet back to the porch.
She clamps us even harder,
Feet ready to bat
Back pummelling ice, shouts
At him over the clatter. He kicks
Stray stones back across the metal threshold,
All but one, which he holds
Out to us all, and together they explain
How this heavy, dangerous lozenge,
Tempting as a ball of hard candy,
Passed over a million-degree volcano before
Floating in its pregnant cloud all the way
To North Carolina, with a smoky
Gray ring stamped on its face.


That Christmas our secret was to meet
In our mother's bedroom
With its widest, emptiest,
Most unsupervised expanse of carpet,
Hold out our arms like Jesus,
And rotate,
In place at first, gathering speed
Until momentum enlarged our round paths
And our thin arms
In tight-fitting thermal sleeves
Lifted unstoppably
Toward our heads. We would try
To outlast each other,
To be the last to fall tangle-legged
To the ground, although we all three knew
That moment to be
The point of the whole contest:
To giggle and groan simultaneously
As the angled plane of the floor
Rose up to meet our heads
Over and over and over and over
While our bodies fell and sank and dove,
Until the room finally settled and gravity
Righted itself in our ears. Then,
To be the first one back up and
To spin again (in the other direction this time,
Experience would teach us)
While the other siblings writhed
Drunk underfoot.

After the First Date

In the next room her old bed
squeaks and heaves. She tips
slow footsteps on the carpet, creeping
towards my door. I squeeze
my eyes shut, slacken
my jaw. She sets all her weight
on the mattress edge, sinks my
loose body closer, wipes the curtain of hair
from my face. Her sigh rises
in its last syllable, a sign
for me to wake, and speak to her.
I purse my lips to seem
as solidly asleep as a new baby. She
steals the chance I've given,
peels the bedspread back,
only inches. I hear her eyes strain
in their sockets, muscles perfecting
their mother's focus.
Above the nightgown she inspects
my neck, shoulders, peeking neck
for marks. She assesses
my sleep and waits for secrets
to leak on the percale. But I
had smoothed my hair and washed
my skin, made sure they'd give nothing
away. Barren-eyed she
stands, but cannot leave without leaning
her cheek to test the heat
and push of my breath,
our old cradle ritual.


 Katherine Friedrich is an urban nature girl who connects with life by writing poetry and short stories. A former zine writer/illustrator, she has also had work published in the chapbook A Voice of One's Own and the magazines New Expression, Feminist Voices, Dyverse, Moondance, and Girlswrite.com. She also enjoys studying t'ai chi and aikido.

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