Mom had to have her Pall Malls.                               

Don’t cross until the light turns red.                                                                           

 

We spot a red light but don’t understand

it’s for cross-traffic at University Avenue—

never mind that a pickup is barreling toward us.                               

 

I dawdle behind my seven-year old sister as she

blindly follows Mom’s vague instructions and

winds up flat on her back on the pavement—out cold.

 

Mom screams bloody murder. I don’t understand

her, or maybe I just don’t want to remember.

 

I turn to see her outline: a petite, emaciated woman

wearing a fitted print sundress, her long, black curls

pulled tautly into a ponytail, spindly arms flailing at

 

the truck driver like the wings of a foxed-chased hen,

feet frozen to gray wood planks on our column flanked porch.

 

By the time the ashen driver delivers my sister’s small, limp,

scraped-up body into Mom’s trembling arms, she comes to.

 

After a trip to Mercy’s Emergency Room, we’re all 

in the living room. Mom sits quietly, her jade eyes vacant.

 

Surrounding laughter competes with my pounding heart

as I study her, cradled on Dad’s lap, her head bandaged

like a mummy’s, his arms wrapped about her like wings. 

 

My sister smiles faintly, not her usual teethy grin,

clear aquamarine eyes teary, then looks away.

 

I am unable to block the image of her with closed eyes;

her motionless body lying in the street overrides—

 

replays inside my head like a reel-to-reel film strip

that snaps and dangles when it reaches the end.

                                                                                                                                        – Mary E. Kocher

On the backside of a snapshot, my father wrote:

Oh—Venus is the one on the right.

My mother stood beside a replica

marble statue in AllertonPark.

 

I used to gaze at her, wondering why

her jade-eyed genes skipped over me,

and why until adolescence I was a

dishwater blonde rather a than a lush

brunette with alluring, long locks

that framed a perfectly symmetrical,

drop-dead gorgeous face.

 

Assigned to write a short autobiography

for freshman orientation class,

I didn’t think it strange to compose

a persuasive essay, an unprovoked defense

consisting of a concise list of sins

my mother would never commit,

like smoking, drinking, or cursing.

 

As for the neglect I could not deny,

nor beatings I was unable to recall?

She couldn’t help it.  She was sick—

at least that was the explanation

 

I dutifully parroted for decades.

I only saw the good I wasn’t and

so deduced there was no cure—

for either of us.

 

While my first baby daughter napped, a

stranger, this haggard Venus, sat opposite

me at my round, early American pine table,

steam rising like a ghost from strong, black,

Folgers in a green floral on white Corelle cup. 

Staring hypnotically past me, her unbroken

monotone penetrated the smokey veil between us:

 

The psychiatrist told me not to worry about you–

that kids bounce back–I was the one who was hurt.

…but I still worried…

  

In my face, a final blow from her Pall Malls:

a goddess in smoke.

– Mary E. Kocher

I wasn’t born on the wrong side of the

tracks, but I lived there one summer. By

the end of kindergarten, I had learned I

was different, which is good or bad,

depending upon what I remember or forget.

 

But it is what we cannot recall that haunts.

 

So it wasn’t the fat boy’s taunts about my

mismatched hand-me-downs and unruly

blonde curls, as I often tardy, dashed down

the school’s wide basement stairway at

Southside in Champaign, Illinois.

 

It wasn’t even the late night, back-door

slams on University Avenue, the rumbling

thuds and high-pitched pleas, or the chorus

of bursting bottles and Jesus Christ’s.

 

So it must have been the dead space between

then and when I felt the fire of my father’s

whiskey-breath apologies blow past my

forehead in storm’s wake, rain still falling.

– Mary E. Kocher