Wild Goose Poetry Review, No 34, Spring 2018
WHAT I UNDERSTAND NOW
As a child, I didn’t understand much
of what the old women on the porch talked about.
When they would see someone walk by and say,
“I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers,”
I could tell it was a compliment by the tone,
but I didn’t really know what it meant or why
they would laugh so much. It didn’t occur to me
they were talking about sex. They were old, and
what would crackers have to do with sex anyway?
Sometimes when we would ask where something was,
a coat, a toy, a container of leftovers in the fridge,
our parents would say, “It’s probably up
some fat lady’s ass in Pittsburgh.” I didn’t know
what that meant either. In fact, even now I don’t,
and I’m afraid to Google the phrase
because of the emails and spam I’d start to get.
But, having children of my own, I do understand
at least the impulse to say something like it.
Since usually they can’t find their own fingers,
I’m constantly tempted to be sarcastic,
and I constantly succumb. I understand now
about frustration, repetition, resignation,
the ridiculousness involved in living
with others, hell, even the surreal possibility
that maybe everything we’ve misplaced
is somehow ass-deep in Pittsburgh.
And, yes, I understand about the crackers,
what you put up with for someone attractive,
the crumbs, the crunch, the irritations.
I know about the untidiness of desire,
the bill you pay for it, sometimes willingly,
and the way you mock it as you get older.
And now I’m even beginning to understand
the complex laughter of those old women
sitting on the porch and talking about sex,
how they understood the absurdity
of aging into these lives, this world,
those fat old women who must have been
younger and thinner than I am now.
My son and I had to leave the house before dawn
to be sure to get to the tournament on time.
It’s more than a hundred miles away,
some place we’ve never been,
and the roads can be icy.
As I drive, he sleeps in the passenger seat,
wrapped in the Harry Potter blanket
he has had for years,
and this may seem like a Hallmark moment,
parent and child, weekend sports,
but I am still pissed
from our fight last night,
one of many we’ve had lately
his demands so unreasonable
my rules so inflexible
the anger of us both
surprising us both
how quickly it arrives
how long it stays
how aware we have become
of how much glass is in the house
Yet maybe this too is what love looks like:
a tired parent trying to navigate a dark path,
tight-lipped but still having made sure the bag
and cleats and snacks have been packed;
a child asleep, feeling safe enough to sleep,
confident the parent will get them
where it is they need to go.
When my daughter was young, she loved to play hair-dresser.
I would sit on her ABC rug, and she would put a wig or towel
over my balding head, then brush and style for hours, chatting
about the difficulties of running a business and raising kids.
Now, years later, I pay her for haircuts, and as I sit on a stool,
she tells me about school and the choices her friends are making.
Often as she rotates around me, I imagine some future visit,
me in assisted living, her borrowing scissors from the staff.
They say hair continues to grow after death, and I hope it’s true.
I hope my daughter will keep cutting my hair until she too is old,
that she will keep talking to me, seeing the man who loved her
enough to sit on a floor for hours patiently holding a stuffed bear,
the way I still see a girl with afro-puffs, adorned in Disney jewelry,
telling me not to be afraid, telling me she will make me beautiful.
They appear on your computer or phone,
old photographs of your children
as toddlers, as first graders missing teeth,
water-skiing, sledding, cooking,
dressed for dances, games, graduations.
You see cars that you used to own
and colors the house used to be.
There is Lucy, that crazy black Lab,
and the gold fish, and, oh, the rabbit,
that’s right, the rabbit that the kids
got to bring home from school
on the weekends. What grade was that?
The images appear, one after another,
jumping back and forth across years.
There you are putting together the crib
and the new bicycles and off they go,
driving away, now they are babies again,
and you wait for the next photo and the next,
unable to move, slowly turning to salt.
Bio: A faculty member at the UNC School of the Arts, Joe Mills has published six books of poetry with Press 53.