Donna Reis’s debut poetry collection, No Passing Zone, published by Deerbrook Editions (December 2012) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is co-editor and contributor to the anthology, Blues for Bill: A Tribute to William Matthews (Akron Poetry Series, 2005). Her non-fiction book, Seeking Ghosts in the Warwick Valley, published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd (2003) has sold nearly 3000 copies. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Same and Zone 3, Blood Lines: Tales of Mayhem and Murder (Knopf, 2011); Chance of a Ghost, Helicon Nine Editions (2005) and Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust, Northwestern University Press (1998).
I. August, 1973
When my father went to Mexico
to coax Mom back, she sent him home
with a peasant dress to give me in her place.
Full-length of bleached muslin, satin-stitched
red, purple, orange and coral flowers with green
stems and leaves bloomed across its yoke.
An embroidered repeat of bouquets tied
in yellow ribbons spilled down its front,
separated in the middle, by two love birds—
one blue and red, one fuchsia and red.
hung it in my closet to admire, afraid
I’d betray my father if I wore it.
II. June, 1974
Your chariot awaits you, Tiger,my doctor grinned
I’ve arranged for an ambulance to bring you
to your graduation. My father and surrogate mother
slipped the embroidered shift over my sutured belly,
fractured pelvic and casted legs like Disney birds
dressing Cinderella. Anxious I’d ruin my dress
or the day, I squelched throwing-up throughout
the jostling ride. At the football field, they gurneyed
me past goal posts to the dais, then lifted me
into a wheelchair. My father gave the benediction,
as the principal lowered a basket of flowers
into my lap. Two plaster feet peered
from the dress’s hem like white doves
legs elevated like wings
Sometimes after rain,
flagstones surface from past garden paths
and patios, You lose yourself in soft swales
of lawn, crossing a back porch toward
an absent screen door—the gardener placing
wicker chairs, maids swatting carpets—no one
noticing as you let yourself in—Persian rugs
hush your steps as they crush underfoot.
You follow the sound of a radio playing—
to an office—FDR? You can’t quite place it.
There, a kitty-cornered desk sits on a zebra skin
rug shot by some glorious ancestor. A Boston fern
presides from a tall pedestal. A cathedral-shaped radio
murmurs—the voice that haunts your mornings
as you struggle to wake—once awake it disappears.
Fearing trespass, you attempt hiding in the staircase
closet, but it’s crammed with crutches, snowshoes,
riding boots and a stuffed woodchuck, from some
lesser victorious hunter you smile over.
You wonder as you smell bread baking, is it you
everyone prepares for in your husband’s family’s
home, long ago burned and buried. Or are you meant
to exist on the fringes of this life as you have your own?