Architectural Trends in McDonalds Restaurants, Rural New Hampshire, 2014
Something has attracted the moths to the faux-stone arches. Large-bodied,
at first I mistook them for nesting birds, and held the hope of humming
birds for a moment against my breath. I assumed one flyer, but rapid and darting
quickly, then saw that there were two, three, at least a dozen, and at
both sides of the false monument, even, for a moment, flitting across the video monitor aimed
at the drive through window, the large soft bodies implying feathers,
the antennae, so definitively like feathers, larger than the aerial on my little orange VW beetle
waving from the far side of the parking lot. That places us in a certain time and place.
That is not this time and place. Though someone, using what must be some
science unknown to me has chosen pale orange and a kind of puke avocado green
as the color scheme for this place and another theme is chrome
and there is nothing at all of comfort here, no warmth, and no true cleanliness,
edges are too sharp for comfort. I am not judgmental. I live with pet hair and grit
and stink. But I see crusts and smears on the tables here and I do not want to touch anyone
else’s leavings. My own dirty nails, not yours. Well. You are the one who is queasy
about clean. And always now I have this feeling that my teeth are wrapped in plastic. That
the gaps where I gave away a few molars are still bleeding. Why shouldn’t I swallow
my own blood? And watch it a thousand miles away on TV?
Holidays I Try to Forget
I am five. I shout down the stairs to the carousing adults: If these people don’t leave Santa Claus is never going to come.
I am eight. It is the last year my father and I go out to ‘shoot’ a wild tree. We have walked through the woods and found just the right one, chopped it down, pulled it festively home through the snow, decorated it, gone off to ski. We find that my mother has undecorated it and tossed it out on the porch, rejected for its imperfections, when we come home after dark.
I am fourteen. My neighbor’s sixteen year old son tries to pin me to his parents’ bed (where we are watching the Rose Bowl Parade.) I kick him in the groin and join the adults in the living room.
I am sixteen. It is eleven a.m. The first year my grandmother lives with us. She sits in the best chair with opened gifts stacked around her. Do you think K-mart is open?
she asks. I want to exchange these.
I am eighteen. My neighbors ask what my boy friend and I did on New Years Eve. Nothing I say. He sat in his car with four college friends and smoked cigars until they couldn’t stand it and rolled down the window. I did not accompany them.
I am twenty-six. I sit in a barely furnished on-call room at the cancer hospital and cry along with “Song of Bernadette” while writing out Christmas cards and eating a turkey sandwich. I have come out here so I can be near my husband for the holiday. He is in the OR. I don’t see him at all.
I am thirty-five. We have been invited to the Gala opening of The Nutcracker at Philadelphia Symphony Hall. The children, the baby, and I, are in matching black velvet outfits. The baby spits up three times between the car and the hall.
I am thirty-nine. I scream about child-support money in my father-in-law’s drive-way after Christmas dinner. Later, a cop pulls me over. I have gotten lost and am weaving down the road with no lights on and three sleeping children in a snowstorm. I have not been drinking.
I am forty-four. My mother insults my ‘boyfriend’ at the Chinese restaurant where we now have Christmas dinner. I go home and rip all the Christmas candles out of the windows. Then I check in to the Day’s Inn. The children go to their father’s ski house.
I am fifty-five. My mother and I bang on pots with wooden spoons at the stroke of midnight. It would have been her sixtieth wedding anniversary. My father has been dead ten years.
It’s battery operated!
The pencil sharpener sings in its festival of dancing curls. It offers a smoky bay windowonto its miniature mulch. How proud is its red label! How elegant its matte gray finish! And cordless! A miracle of mobile efficiency. And to think I went so long without it. Climbing to the dark basement to find the mounted crank on the workshop beam. Stumbling for the light switch in the empty ancient room. And for what? the broken points and shavings of that ancient wreck’s turnings! And how many little rectangles with their hidden razor edges recline in drawers in how many desks and pencil boxes trailing down the long years of my life? A new one each year. And a special one built into each new box of crayons. (Oh, the sacred aroma of crayon wax and the stained glass beauty of its melting, pressed between wax paper sheets to form perfect windows in my shoebox church.) Yes, this is a world of exclamations and questions. How many things have I written with these sharpened points? How many number two pencils prepared for the SATs! My own, and my children’s? And for the first day of school! Now, intrepid little appliance, it sits at the ready beside my right hand, its single eye open to my need. The waterfall of wood, an ancient wind-god’s beard. And I can add to it. I can add to it. I have a whole box of pencils. I may have need.
Pediatrician Kelley White worked in inner city Philadelphia and now works in rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her most recent books are TOXIC ENVIRONMENT (Boston Poet Press) and TWO BIRDS IN FLAME (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.