Susan Terris

( San Francisco, California )

from BFR, Winter 2003


The Basement Room

Mother dreams of our dead father, and in her dreams 
he is unfaithful. 

She dreams, too, of a secret room near the root cellar 
with its bleeding tomatoes and peaches, 
a place of animals in cages and terrariums, 
of foul fish tanks.  
A room walled-up for decades yet open now
because the house is up for sale. 

As she inhales the stench of death and neglect,  
she sees dust has furred everything.  
Beneath it, mouse bones dance and fish skeletons 
fin past while three floors above, 
in the attic, Father's rusty tuxedo slumps 
against her rotted wedding coat. 

But there is no attic of disembodied clothes, 
no basement cache with lost creatures, 
no black-and-white film to whine 
on an ticking projector.  Father was never unfaithful, 
yet a fox appears with grapes
and parrots from Telegraph Hill. 
Amid parrots, Mother is fixing chili with sauce 

from Denn's, our father's old dive in Springfield.  
She is not drinking, but we sip from flutes of 
champagne and joke about tomorrow's 
flinty headaches.  Never good at restraint, 
we are the wrong ones 
to deal with Mother's dream.  Unasked, 
we release the spirits of the dust-covered dead, 

clean their cages and seal up that room.  
Mother, as she stirs chili, nibbles spritz cookies, 
says how tired she is, how little attention 
she gets now.  But Father, ignoring
her, has put on his tux and is waltzing 
with a woman in yellow chintz, 

while at Mother's feet, a clutch of children tug
at her apron, ask for one more Aesop's fable.

Next - Angelo Verga

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