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Martha Clarkson

My Uncle did not Like Children

it was understood

though he had his own

he sent me a rat

on my sixth birthday

a pet

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

the pink


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.

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