Alone on the playground's edge,
surrounded by a troupe of invisible ballerinas
who transform her frayed skirt into a flash of tulle
while others play foursquare and hopscotch
on the blacktop, she exercises her superpowers
by blocking out thoughts of her mother's demons.
At night she crawls into bed, waking up alone
in the house at midnight - but nothing frightens her.
A swift cat scratch across her cheek imparts
no sting, she can hold back a decade of tears
with a single squint. Neighborhood children
never hear the words
that wrestle within her head, and even adults
struggle to see evidence of the mother's love
her x-ray vision barely captures.
On the British Riviera
We step across the green onto the promenade
and watch a sloop transition past the harbor of Torquay.
It's late afternoon. Beside me, a German woman
chatters about her retirement and relocation
to the city center. Her husband sleeps
in a hired deck chair, his yellow canvas hat
slanted across his face. Beside a long line of beach huts,
a mother rummages through her bag for coins
and sends her daughter to the ice cream stand.
I trace my finger over your skin, feeling
a raised line between the wrist and thumb -
the only evidence of your twenty-five year
racing career. Its faint glossiness has tattooed
you with your former self, a thin scar
from another era. We marvel at the lack
of waves and watch the sun wedge purple shadows
between rows of white Victorians
near the strand. Trees line the sidewalks
as easterly winds chicane through their fronds.
They remind me of old people, minds rustling
over a sea of yesterdays, waving at tourists
on the British Riviera - each with a story
ridged into their palm.
In a Hat Box
When I wake at three in the morning with stars
sprinkled between my curtains, and see
my old hat box wedged on the corner shelf
beneath scalloped shadows, I remember
its contents of unused wool from a needlepoint
canvas, colored pencils and the camera
with a broken lens. I recall a length of ribbon
too dark for my hair, business cards
that no longer matter, a plastic harmonica
from an amusement hall and an old monogrammed
handkerchief wrapped around a black and white
picture of you, leaning against a palm tree.
Back then, you were a transplanted Nebraskan
collecting San Diego summers in your pockets,
exploring tide pools and sailboats. Each Saturday
you rode the bus to Hotel Del Coronado
where big band music filled the Victorian ball room.
One night you posed on the lawn in pearls and heels,
beneath a sand dollar moon embedded above the bay.
That was before you married Dad. Before trips
to Bermuda and Europe, mundane chores, diapers,
three children, bike rides and sewing classes.
Before illness. When a slice of moon could move
across the Silver Strand, and still glint in your eyes.
Karen Kelsay is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the
author of five chapbooks. Her book, Dove on a Church Bench, will be
published next year by Punkin House Press. Karen is the editor and
creator of Victorian Violet, an online poetry magazine. She lives in
Orange County, California, with her British husband and two cats.