Mary Lou Buschi is the author of 2 full-length poetry collections and 3 chapbooks. Most recently, Paddock, through Lily Poetry Review Books. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals such as West Trestle, 2River, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares(forthcoming). She lives in Nyack, NY. https://www.maryloubuschi.com
Tulip trees grow at a rate of 24 inches per year.
The Walnut tree reaches 300 feet before it bends.
Clouds, balloons, kites, the heavyhearted hawk
circling the yard, all make us look up,
which is why when my father asked me
to ride the roller coaster at Bertrand’s Island,
when I was too small, I acquiesced.
As my mother disappeared into
the Tarot reader’s purple tent we knew
we had at least 15 minutes to sneak away
and ride the one mile of track with its sudden
dips and turns propelled only by gravity.
My father slipped me by the large vertical
ruler to quickly board a metal car, which back then
had no door, just a flimsy belt that stretched over our laps.
I curled myself into my father’s chest, shut my eyes.
Both of us, silent. My father held on to the metal bar
with one hand and me with the other.
As the car lurched forward, some screams,
some laughter broke through the whip and crack
as the car careened over the track. After resisting
the force against my small frame, the final descent.
It felt as if we had put ourselves on a platform
at the top of the world and jumped.
I don’t know if my father had any fun at all.
There my mother was at the exit ramp,
hands placed squarely on her hips,
My father lost all color in his face.
Forgive us, I said, dad wanted to soar,
and I wanted to let him.
I’ve always hated my birthday.
It’s miserable, vacant, and hot
like the day my family pretended
to be normal; my father cooking
chicken on the grill until it was black,
yet raw on the inside, after my brother
disappeared the second time.
My grandmother smoking and
sweating on the back porch. My mother
quietly rocking in her chair, staring at the black
and white TV that was barely visible in the sun’s
glare. I was out in the brown grass.
It had been a dry July. I had been hoping
for a little bit of joy, a Carvel cake
soft enough to cut, allowing its chocolate
crunchy bits to spill from the center.
There were no gifts, not even music.
Just the sound of the town parade.
Its strident trumpets and pounding drums
beating out some idea of American triumph.
I looked back at them, my father on the cracked
concrete step flipping terrible chicken,
peeling paint on the make-shift porch,
even the dog with her dry nose between her paws,
a tableau of a family, and thought how wrong I was.
I had assumed a family was like a body with a central heart,
but maybe it’s really more like a tree, splitting at its center
from the weight of all that living.