My Uncle did not Like Children
it was understood
though he had his own
he sent me a rat
on my sixth birthday
not a taxidermied horror
he must’ve liked me a bit.
My Father’s Gall Bladder
was removed under the label “optional surgery.”
The doctor told him afterward:
The whole thing was gangrene.
You would’ve been dead by Thursday.
My father’s nephew showed up
at the hospital with his Jesus friends.
They surrounded the bed and read
paragraphs from a new-wave bible.
When they finally left
my father called me in a panic
almost unable to breathe.
My mother kept a blue piggy bank by the phone.
Each night she inserted coins from her wallet.
When the bank was full, she dumped it
into a sturdy canvas bag hanging in the broom closet.
Once a month, she took the bag to the bank.
When she decided I was old enough
she showed me the passbook’s amount.
This is just between you and me, she said,
as if on a future date she might have to flee.
My Aunt’s Ankle
had a metal plate in it
supporting a bone defect
exotic for those days
she never learned to drive
“it’s her nervous disposition,” people said
she walked to the bus in her comfort shoes
her firstborn she rejected
and they sent her for a stay in the state hospital
because it was assumed infant love was instant
she never did live things down
on her husband’s side of the family
rejection, nerves, a weak ankle.
The Older Cousin I Worshipped
was a tomboy
she even had a name
that could go either way
a slot car set
and a stack of 45s
I’d never heard of.
She had kissed a boy
it was whispered
and later I learned
her father beat her.
That summer she worked
on the town’s telephone switchboard
“Operator” was all she could say
to anyone who called.
could be up, could be down
watch your head
Martha Clarkson’s writing and photography can be found in monkeybicycle, F-Stop, Clackamas Literary Review, Seattle Review, Portland Review, Black Box Gallery, Calyx, Feminine Rising, The Seattle Times, and Nimrod. She has two notable short stories in Best American Short Stories. www.marthaclarkson.com