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.