Bricks and mortar aren’t what home is:
Nor the things we collected,
displayed, lived with.
But isn’t it funny how
often it distills down
to that rickety table with the yellow Formica top
in the centre of our tiny kitchen all those years,
the one we picked up for a song
that no matter how carefully
we teased the two ends apart
would send out the same jarring screech
and how we’d all squeal in fright, as if on cue,
then laugh until it hurt,
before carefully inserting the battered extra leaf
to make room for more.
Bricks and mortar aren’t what home is:
There is no glory in suffering.
Father Blackwell got it all wrong.
Ask the young martyrs
How much good ever came from their deprivation,
Their unspeakable deaths.
The suicide bomber looking up at a cloudless blue sky on his final walk.
What is his family’s honor to him then.
My father, grasping at air for his tissue paper lungs,
What greater good was ever served.
The faithful dog who licks his master’s hand
Only to be beaten again.
The teenage mother who surrendered her baby girl from her hospital bed,
When she passes a young woman in a stairwell years later,
And stares into a face hauntingly like her own,
As her heart breaks yet again,
Who did as she was told,
Where is the glory now?
A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.
Helmet-like perms, and all of us
in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in
above each knuckle, so they stood up,
like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday mornings.
The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,
Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,
their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,
head wear designed for the deranged.
Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together
for the obligatory snapshot, sentries,
on the stone steps after Mass,
the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,
our flimsy ethereal dresses of Swiss dot, atop stiff crinolines
lofting in the wind.
Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,
I yearned for the silk stockings
worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.
The three of us stationed solemnly behind
our younger brother, happy to form his own line,
quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest
and perfectly pressed little wool trousers.
Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,
but not one of us listened.
At least one child would turn her head away that day
just as the shutter clicked.
Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.
And the third, the face of the third girl
would show to the camera a look of such sadness
as is unimaginable in one so young.
Now the photo retrieved, scrutinized,
one of dozens piled haphazardly
in this battered shoe-box,
the sorting job no one ever took on,
these celluloid witnesses to our lives.
Its edges scalloped like icing on a cake,
bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs
the truest chronicle of those years,
forensic in its revelations,
bringing with it the simple message
that each of us might have done better
if we’d only known how.
It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.
Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,
the way you liked it.
I sent the shoes that were a bit small,
but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.
At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us
for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.
Now to prepare the food for the mourners,
sandwiches to begin.
Made differently today,
the correct word is painstakingly.
The butter must be spread
to each and every corner of the bread,
from freshly-baked loaves.
Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,
No celery, you hated it.
Remove the crusts.
Assemble them ever so gently
before making the final cuts
into perfect quarters.
Clean the knife after each one.
Display them proudly
on my most treasured serving pieces.
And cloth napkins.
All is ready.
Invite them in.
I’ll get this right
for all the times