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Winter 2019/20

Wendy Barker


Small brass dome under the edge of the round
            mahogany table, or oval, with leaves if they
                        had visitors. Like me and my sisters in
our seersucker shorts, flown in on Grandpop's
            nickel from our cramped Tucson tract house
                        and scratchy bermuda grass to this New
Jersey suburb, manicured lawns, tidy beds
            of blossoming dahlias, roses. That bell,
                        upside-down dome with its black nipple
of a button Grandma pressed, alerting
            Ethel to bring another basket of Parker
                        House rolls, more asparagus, or the lemon
meringue pie. That bell with its cord
            attached on the table's underside, running
                        down one carved leg, below the "Oriental"
rug and on into the kitchen, where Ethel
            spent hours preparing meals miraculous
                        to me, used to my mother's TV dinners,
hamburgers, Bird's Eye frozen peas,
            macaroni and cheese. But oh, Ethel's
                        kitchen! With its polished Revere Ware and
cast iron skillets, a pantry perfumed
            by ginger and cinnamon. After lunch, dinner,
                        dishes cleared, the china and silver washed
and dried, the kitchen scrubbed, she
            climbed the back stairs—barely wider
                        than her starched-white-uniformed body
and lit with a single hanging bulb—
            to a 7' x 9' room under the attic. One
                        weekend a month she took the train into
the Bronx to see her sisters and sons,
            whose names I never knew. But I wish
                        I did know who they were, could find them,
tell them how I hated the way
            the grownups, over their ice-chilled
                        highballs, made fun of Ethel, how they
guffawed at her notion that crops
            would thrive if planted in sync with
                        cycles of the moon. Ethel, who responded
to the dinging of that little brass bell
            in a half-minute, was "colored," and we,
                        of course, were not. Today that bell dangles
from a fragment of cord under
            the table that's mine now, the table
                        I sort and fold laundry on, a job Ethel did for
Grandma (who couldn't open a can of
            Campbell's chicken broth). Decades since
                        that bell's been disconnected, though its sharp
edges now hang down so far below
            the table's lip that if we sit right under it
                        and lift a leg too quickly, our jeans or skirt
 will be sliced through to white skin. 

Wendy Barker’s seventh collection of poems, Gloss, is forthcoming from St. Julian Press in 2020. Her sixth collection, One Blackbird at a Time, received the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry (BkMk Press, 2015). Her fifth chapbook is Shimmer (Glass Lyre Press, 2019). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2013. Recipient of NEA and Rockefeller fellowships among other awards, she teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


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