The Darmstadt Year

Issue SixIssue Six PoetryPoetry

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by Cynthia D. Nelson

 

The Darmstadt Year

 

            I read out the sign at our new base:

            Freedom Through …

            Vigilance, said Dad. We’re here

            to keep an eye on the rascals.

 

 i. Chains

At the curved edge of the mountain road, Dad cussed

the thick white slush that stopped our tires. Snow clouds stuck

on the windows, snow chunks caught in the wipers.

Dad cussed the other cars for not stopping. Mom cussed Dad

for not bringing chains. Dad cussed Mom for always

cussing at him. Mom cussed Dad for cussing at her

in front of me. Then Dad set out on foot.

 

Mom slithered over the front seat, curled up

close to me. Locked in the back of the Falcon for hours –

no blanket, no food, no place to pee – just me and Mom

in the freezing silence, each of us

waiting for rescue.

 

ii. The clock

Peas fleeing my plate.

No, not like that. Skewering me

 

with his look. Hold it like a pencil.

And use your knife.

 

Jesus, is that how you hold a pencil? Is it?

Show me. Show me how you hold a pencil.

 

Grabbing my right wrist, lifting me

like a Raggedy Ann, tossing me

 

from my seat. I hit the wall,

right beside the grandfather’s clock

 

our landlady in Edinburgh

had given her perfect tenant

 

because he always paid the rent on time, early even.

Jesus, Jesus! Leaping up to check

 

no damage had been done

to the big brass weights, the precious chimes.

 

iii. Patient

Her first night home from the hospital:

a can of minestrone, a duet

of muffled yells.

 

Library books in a stack by my bed.

Turning pages, turning pages. Steeled

against sleep, my body stiff with listening.

 

Next day’s news: stitches broken open.

More sitting in pale green rooms

watching soft white padded shoes.

 

iv. Tassel

In the burnt-orange glow

the hotel lady dripping chiffon

shimmied her chest,

 

arms open like Jesus.

With a sneaky smile

she unhooked her golden

 

bra, waved it like a flag

above our heads.

Animal sounds

 

from the mouths of the crowd –

Army and Air Force,

some in their civvies.

 

No kids but me.

I studied the lampshade

on the table, counted the ice cubes

 

in my parents’ drinks. Later,

in our room upstairs, Mom untying

a fancy old tassel –

 

ruby red with mustard gold –

from the key

on the wardrobe door.

 

Pressing it to her naked

nipple, twirling his shirt

with a husky laugh, making jokes

 

with her eyebrows.

No escape. Nowhere to go

but the pull-out cot.

 

v. In the middle

My mother was leaning

in their bedroom doorway

in her bright blue two-piece

with the tiny flashes of lightning.

 

Her belly soft as jello,

the curvy tops of her breasts

just showing. My two-piece

dangling in her bedroom hands.

 

Put on your suit, she said.

Don’t be shy, she said.

Cindy, put this on, she yelled

from the doorway.

 

Standing by their mahogany bed, lifting

my t-shirt over my head, laying it

on their off-white bedspread.

Steered to the living room.

 

The music a warm slow breeze.

My mother swinging her hips and swaying

her arms, spreading the jazz all around.

Lightning was loose in the air.

 

I was there. With the middle of my body

in the middle of my father’s view.

He leaned back on the couch, folded his arms.

My turn to dance.

 

vi. Nobody

The clean white rectangle on my desk,

the sticks of colour I scooped from the tin,

the room bright with noise. My hands on my lap.

Don’t you want to draw yourself, said Mrs McClard,

spreading kindness over me like honey on bread.

But I knew how to make it so nobody mattered.

I could wait and wait for a thing to end.

 

Mrs McClard led me up to her desk.

Whatever she was about to do,

I surely deserved it. She sat me down and drew

my face, long brown hair, rosy cheeks.

All the pictures were taped up high. Only mine

was perfect. But that crayon smile was a lie.

I was the blank it was meant to hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previously published in its entirety in The Wombat Vedas: Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2011.