HOLLYHOCKS

Kate Harding

 

Three days after my mother died,
her hollyhocks tumbled down
under their own weight. My father had
disappeared. I had eaten the last
of her meatloaf wrapped in wax paper.

She had waved me out of her kitchen.
“No need to learn to cook. You’ll be
a professor.” She ground her own meat,
the red strings wriggling like worms.

Though I only had my learner’s permit
I drove her old Plymouth to the store.

There were whole aisles in Safeway she
never went down. That first day I bought
Bird’s Eye frozen broccoli and macaroni
and cheese.

The mothers of my friends gossiped about me,
told their daughters, “Stay away from her.
Who knows what’s going on in that house?
Parties. Boys.”

There were no parties. No boys. Nights,
I was so lonesome I would call the Time
and a lady would say it is now three oh three.
I made JELLO and Swanson’s turkey dinners.

I asked the gym teacher, perky Miss Butler,
a woman whom a month before I would never
have talked to, about salads. Miss Butler coached

the  Sergeantnettes,  a girls’ marching drill team.
She told me she had polio as a child. I tucked
that away. People could survive all sorts of things.
She said, “Wash the lettuce first.”

I fried hamburger meat, flames jumping
wildly under the iron skillet. A month later,
my father reappeared, moved us to a dingy
apartment across town.

Nights, I would sit in my mother’s car.
in front of our old house. The new owner,
a gardener, staked my mother’s hollyhocks.
I couldn’t see the pale pink, ruby, and yellow
flowers in the dark. But I knew they were there.

 

 

Kate Harding is a Pushcart Prize nominee in both fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Contemporary World Literature: Journal for the Arts, Poetry International,  Perigee, Today’s Alternative News  and the San Diego Poetry Annual. New work will be forthcoming in The Hummingbird Review.
 

MY GRANDFATHER CHANGES HIS LAST NAME

Kate Harding

 

At the Grand Canyon Red Rock Motel
he signs  the register.  The shiny Buick out front
my grandmother holding the picnic basket
boiled chicken, she glances at the paper,
the familiar handwriting, the blue ink.
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor! Am I some floozie?
You have to write a different name? Taylor?”
She tells the clerk, “We are married forty years.”
Grandpa  says nothing, steps out for the valise.
Polished shoes, a tuft of thin blond hair
slicked back  under the Panama hat,
his purple shirt looks like an orchid
in the Arizona  heat.

In the hot motel room, they sit on twin beds.
Whir of the fan the only sound. She unpins
her long hair. “One of your practical jokes?”
My grandfather, the lawyer says,
“Taylor is now our legal name.”
She sighs, thinking about engraved flatware,
cloth napkins, tea towels, the Hs she sewed
on percale sheets and pillowcases.
“I’ve been Mrs. Herman since I was a girl.
What about your brothers and sister?
Who goes and changes his own family name?”
His jacket and tie still on, he sits stiffly.
She is already down to her pink corset.

”Meshugener,” she mutters.
She has never called him a name
directly before. Plenty, “Blitz Krieg,”
“the dictator” out of his hearing.
He opens the paper he bought in Kingman,
Senator Joe McCarthy with his wide forehead
and dark eyebrows glares at him in black and white.
She studies her husband as if he were a rare
eggshell brocade she has never seen before.
The bump on his head, a wound from a rock
thrown by a Jew-hating soldier in Russia years ago
shines in the dim motel light.

She thinks of the stories she heard, her husband
taught himself English  while driving a bus,
the book in his lap,  eye  on the road,
how proud he was to follow Teddy  Roosevelt
up San Juan hill, how he always stopped  to salute
the statue of the soldier at  the Veterans Cemetery.
He loves this country that gave him his freedom.

Sweat, which he calls perspiration dripping
down his neck he  sat bent all summer
over the McCarthy  hearings
as if he were sitting shive.

“Meshugener,” she whispers again.
“You think the fat Senator is after you.”
She frees a chicken leg from its wax paper
and hands it  to my grandfather,
his hat still on his lap.

 

 

                                            

Kate Harding is a Pushcart Prize nominee in both fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Contemporary World Literature: Journal for the Arts, Poetry International,  Perigee, Today’s Alternative News  and the San Diego Poetry Annual. New work will be forthcoming in The Hummingbird Review.