No rain today. No sun breaks through the fog.
He makes a breakfast of toast and jelly,
soft boiled eggs. Then he writes at the table
of Cathleen’s mother throwing baby chicks
into the furnace. Her father brought them
home for his daughter, who kept him with her
once her mother agreed to give her birth.
Her mother taught school. She knew what was right
for her little girl: piano, ballet,
art as long as she was designing clothes
but not if no one could understand it
or if it reproduced what you could see
but couldn’t wear. Cathleen wanted a pet,
her mother said no, her father rebelled.
He was on the road selling tobacco,
as he liked to say with Irish humor,
gone five days a week and home with Cathleen
as long as her mother would let him stay.
Her voice was even, his was sharp, they fought.
Once she was through with her ant circuses,
she wanted animals, those who gave birth,
she did not say but prayed to St. Therese
that she be given lives she could care for,
creatures that grew in a womb to be born
like her, like her father, her mother too.
One day she returned home from school. She looked
everywhere. They were nowhere to be found.
She asked her mother what happened to them.
Her mother matter-of-factly confessed
she picked them up, opened the furnace door
and that was that, something she always said
to end discussion. So much for chickens
to grow up beside her, she went with boys
into the dark and she liked what they did
with her, they made her feel good. They gave her
raison d’etre before she knew what the word
meant in English. She did her useless art
and found her detailed view of ancient Rome
as seen from the crest of the seventh hill
destroyed one morning she found it missing:
her art teacher said one of her classmates
covered the paper with acid, and Rome
died in her heart. She worked hard, made good grades,
B’d only algebra, won second place,
warmed the audience for Mr. Straight-A
who scholarship’d to Stanford. Her mother
said the local college was good enough
for Cathleen. Her father said no. They fought.
Her father won, told Juan, in Seattle,
she got everything she wanted. Money
from her beloved Daddy, she called him,
husband of the woman she called Mommy,
though he said to Juan only that the man
she married would be following his act.
Act was the word he used. In Hollywood
he worked as a stand-in for Clark Gable.
Cathleen’s girlfriends swooned when they saw Daddy.
At her whim Mommy drove her friends away.
Before she was born her father threatened
to return south and get his old job back,
the year 1941 had begun,
only the Nazis were loose on the earth,
and he was in the car, motor running,
when she came to the window and looked in
and said, All right, I will give you a child.
The fog burned off. He could go on to write
again of their meeting in Seattle,
their clandestine dates, her steady boyfriend
his roommate in their Green Lake apartment.
Then he rented the Lake Union houseboat
where she slept with him as much as she could,
her mother refusing to sign papers
that would allow her to live off campus,
her father impotent to take her side.
Juan and Cathleen were very happy then.
She was not spoiled but brutalized by one
who took up with a city cop who drank
with her in his patrol car and with whom
she fucked at least once before midnight tolled
and she went home to get a little sleep,
Cathleen and her father in their dreamlands.
Later she took Cathleen to the state-line
honky-tonks where they both danced with strangers
and she showed her daughter, by example,
what to do when a man wanted to come
home with her, learning her mother’s magic.
(27 June 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander