My father paces the upstairs hall
a large confined animal
neither wild nor yet domesticated.
About him hangs the smell of righteous wrath.
My mother is meekly seated
at the escritoire. Rosy from my bath
age eight-nine-ten by now I understand
his right to roar, hers to defy
the bill from Wanamaker’s in his hand
the bill from Strawbridge’s held high
the bill from Bonwit Teller
and the all plum-colored Blum Store.
His anger smells like dinner parties
like trays of frothy daiquiris.
Against the pre-World-War-Two prime
standing ribs his carving knife
flashes a little drunkenly. He charms
all the other Bonwit-bedecked wives
but something overripe malingers.
I wear his wide cigar bands on my fingers.
Oh God it is so noisy!
Under my bed a secret stair
a gold and purple escalator
takes me nightly down under the sea.
Such dancings, such carryings on
with the prince of this-or-that
with the duke of ne’er-do-well
I the plain one, a size too large to tell
grow tremulous at stickpin and cravat
I in toe shoes and tutu suddenly
see shopping is an art form
a kind of costume ball.
Papá, would we so humbly come
to the scene in the upstairs hall
on the first of every month, except
you chose the mice for footmen, clapped
to call up the coach and four?
You sent to Paris for the ermine muff
that says I’m rich. To think twelve poor
little things had their heads chopped off
to keep my hands unseemly warm!
When you went fishing down the well
for fox furs, hats with peacock plumes
velvet evening capes, what else befell?
You paid the bills, Papá. You cast the spell.
Two nights running I was out there
in orange moonlight with old bedsheets
and a stack of summered-over Sunday papers
tucking up the tomatoes while the peppers
whimpered and went under and the radishes
dug in with their dewclaws and all over
the field the goldenrod blackened
and fell down like Napoleon’s army.
is a mildewed tent. Under the center pole
you must either bend double or take to your knees.
And suppose, after all that tugging and smoothing, you ease
yourself, blind end first, into your blanket roll —
wet under, and over, wool scratch, and you lying still,
lashed down for the season, hands crossed between your thighs.
the canvas stink in your nose, the night in your eyes —
what makes you think that rattling your ribs here will
save you? Camper, you are a bone-sore fool.
Somewhere a brown moth beats at a lighted window.
Somewhere a weasel fastens into his mouse.
The ground heaves up its secret murmur of toadstools;
they are marching to bear you away to the dumb show.
Yank up the pegs and come back! Come back in the house.