Ellen Stone

Check stubs from the Super Duper


The summer Dad sold the house, we climbed the ladder stair

one last time and smelled the attic air, how sawdust


insulation baked in late July gave off a heat of honeybee

that felt old and dry and safe somehow, though sweat


gathered on our lips as we poured over crumbling boxes,

lamps and stacks of books. I wanted to find Mom up there


too, some evidence of her years spent in those stucco walls:

a crepe black suit with pants I ended up with that folded


lengthwise into creases like accordions, the faded ivory

tea dress she never wore with embroidered flowers


on the neck, an orange and yellow pillbox hat. Instead,

a pile of check stubs from the Super Duper, her flowing


script, the perfect penmanship she taught in elementary

school. All those trips to buy detergent, flour, yeast, I


wanted to keep them, confirmation of her dailiness,

the $14.53 in August ‘69. But when my sister scooped


them up and put them in the trash, I did not say a word.

Just promised to remember them, how lithe they seemed


and light like her before she ended up, before she left

our home, before the end of ends, and no one there to shop


and cook and sort out what stayed in the house and what

we took up to the attic room to store for what came next.



Another cleaning day


Mother in her three small rooms.

I’m the feather duster. She holds

each glassy dish I hand her

from the shelf. The fluted, won

at Bingo, the bangled at a sale.

This ridged square she calls crystal.

From Salem State, she says. Under

my fingers as I rinse it in the sink,

insignia from ’53 carved in the top.

The spring she graduated, five years

before she bore me in the world.

The manager at the White Hen gave

me a ride, she says. To the reunion

I ask, all that way? She says yes.


Thirty minutes up the coast. Mom

in her rooms at Victory Gardens

after years of group homes, trying

to work, basement apartment near

the sea. She played dimes on Tuesday

with all the old Italians. Just down

the road from where she cheered

at football games, tap-danced, sold

snow cones on the beach. Her face

is bright in all the frames I dust here

on her walls. Just like the years

her father saved in photos on the shelf.

She pages through, names some names,

before she’s done, another cleaning day.



Bathing my mother


My mother’s back is painted turtle—

abundant in the sun, water spotted,

smooth and curved like muddy banks,

ridge-less, segmented still by years.


She has lived a long time, hibernating

when it was necessary to survive, still

breathing under all her cover, but not

able to communicate lost habitat.


My mother was not roadkill, but just

about. Slowed to a creep, she stalled

on asphalt, on the hard wood floors

of our old house, in the garden heat.


She exhales now in the shower,

water streaming over her, cascade

teeming, the gleam of a dark

carapace at the pond’s edge.


My mother proclaims, so confident

when she has the wash rag ready.

How calm the turtle looks perched

and settled in the haze of afternoon.



Her last breath swishes grass


And we are in the rye again—

tall grain above our heads

matted down to these nests

where we carve out space

for our tiny bodies’ homes.


Calling her out there

near the back garden

to join us and she comes

of course, our young mother

drying her hands carefully


leaving the hot rinse water

to let us show her what

we have done, what

we have created for her,

small worlds, green & round


We say Let’s have egg

sandwiches & milky tea

out here! when she visits,

pretend to be her— laugh-

light that spill-rushes the way


ditch water flows down

the bank below our stucco

house, churning, insistent

and overflowing from corn-

field on its long way to river.

 

Ellen Stone advises a poetry club at Community High School and co-hosts a monthly poetry series in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her poems have appeared most recently in Anti-Heroin Chic, Great Lakes Review and Rust + Moth among other places. She is the author of What Is in the Blood (Mayapple Press, 2020) and The Solid Living World (Michigan Writers’ Cooperative Press, 2013). Ellen’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart prize and Best of the Net. Reach Ellen at www.ellenstone.org.