Friday, April 19, 2019

Poems I Admire #58

Home Economics

That week with my sister in Modesto,
the kitchen radio played an endless loop
of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” – 
Jim Morrison’s deadpan chant the anchor
for moody riffs on the Fender Rhodes
haunted by rain and claps of thunder – 
alternating with Carole King crooning it was too late,
both songs pulsing along the same hypnotic 4/4 groove
in a minor key suited to the duplex’s dimness,
the shades pulled to block the fiery afternoon sun.
While the baby napped, I read,
savoring the breeze stirred up by an oscillating fan.
I could hear my sister muttering curses at the weevils
she’d found in her flour, her second year of marriage
marked by cloth diapers and other domestic economies.
Like a cryptic prophet, Jim warned
of a sinister killer lurking in plain sight,
Carole’s prognostication of imminent break-up
seeming equally remote.
When the news came on a five, I headed to the kitchen
to peel potatoes, an eager helper.
My mother thought cooking from scratch an absurdity,
but my sister relished creation and innovation.
That week I practiced rolling out pie crusts
and beating egg whites. Twice we treated ourselves
to French toast for breakfast.

That week I made a dress under my sister’s tutelage.
I’d been dogging her through fabric stores for years.
Eighth-grade sewing had been wasted
on useless drawstring bags, but now I was learning
how to match plaids and clip curves
before ironing them flat. When my brother-in-law
returned from his long shift running peaches
at the cannery, I fed the baby his strained carrots
while my sister put a meatloaf on the table,
the radio tuned lower but Jim – dead in Paris
of a heroin overdose – still intoning that a girl
should love her man. Carole sadly replied
she could no longer fake it. Once we’d dried
the dishes, we sat on the front stoop as the sprinkler
doused the hibiscus. When my brother-in-law
retired to bed, his alarm set for four a.m.,
my sister gave the baby his bath, I at her elbow
observing the rituals of powdering. At fourteen
and twenty-three, listening to that soundtrack,
what did we know of nihilism parading about
in the tatters of flagrant excess? Or slow-simmering
heartache scorching love and boiling it dry?
We knew only what we’d been told mattered:
gratitude for shelter, appreciation for nourishing food,
thankfulness for well-constructed clothing
that would last.

First appeared in The Homestead Review

Patricia L. Hamilton is a professor of English in Jackson, TN. She won the Rash Award for Poetry in 2015 and 2017 and has received three Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Ibbetson Street, Plainsongs, Third Wednesday, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and Cumberland River Review, among other journals. The Distance to Nightfall (Main Street Rag, 2014) is her first collection.

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