Merridawn Duckler is a poet and playwright from Portland, Oregon and the author of INTERSTATE, dancing girl press and IDIOM, forthcoming from Harbor Review and winner of the Washburn Prize. Her work has been widely published and anthologized. Recent work in Ninth Letter, Pithead Chapel, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Ibbetson Street Press. 2019 nomination for Best of the Net, previous winner Writers@Work, runner-up for the Arizona Poetry Center judged by Farid Matuk and included in the Wigleaf Top 50. Fellowships/awards include Yaddo, Southampton Poetry Conference, Poets on the Coast, Norman Mailer Center, Berta Anolic Award and forthcoming residency at the Horned Dorset Writers Colony in New York. She’s an editor at Narrative and at the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics. www.merridawnduckler.com
We had never been to Patty’s house before,
a slightly off gal, in tilted cat eye glasses.
So, when Patty’s father slapped Patty’s mother’s ass
it might as well have been our faces.
We were childishly finger-painting.
The age—8—is for girls the division of beginners;
some still brush the soft fake hair on plastic ponies
whereas others look in mirrors to see if they are sinners.
The slap took place while Patty’s mother bent
to take actual cooked food from the oven
(itself an act of insult to our neighborhood)
and he goosed her though they were separated.
Our gasp of collective injustice could not have been greater
than for the cheat to whom one says: But you’re married
as I once said, quite stupidly to my first husband
before I knew they could be numbered.
But most of what was wrong with Patty sat
in the corner, her terrifying Baba Yagi grandmother
and worst of all, I had one too. The fear that I’d be lumped
with misshapen cookies, sad glasses, and a poaching father
made me look down at my hands, cozened in blue,
a color I saw only one other time,
when that husband took me to meet his grandma,
the sleek matriarch of his lordly, disintegrating clan.
Everywhere she went a servant followed
with a clean ashtray and weepy julep.
She’d been a great belle in her day,
and now everyone was afraid of her money.
She coolly surveyed me while my fiancée kissed her cheek.
What service do you attend?
Her doubt that I had ever been in any church laid on a tray
as blue as grass, Irish eyes and shipwrecked English china
followed my glance: our family recipe which in WASP means:
My grandson will break your heart in increments.
But I was raised to flee between two lands
and handed back the tray without even a tremor
as the old world slapped me hard
and passed me to her with coated hands.