OLD LADY COUNTRY
Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.
I have dragged old ladies out of their beds
at three in the morning and begged them to scream.
I have argued with them over the merits of guilt and pornography.
I have pleaded with them: Howl, old ladies, like great golden bears.
I have given them the once-over, the twice-over, fruit leather to chew on.
Like evangelists they scream. Like kids sloshed on their daddy’s home brew.
The sound of an old lady’s scream is wetter than a sheet
dragged through a mangle. A retro-sweet cry
that can cut an old lady gag down in the flower of its youth.
Six in the morning, neighbour George pounding on the door
with another bucket of wild mushrooms—
Git out here fer god’s sake old lady and bring yer paper bag.
Some enter the labyrinth and cannot hold their tongues.
Some carry regret on their backs like ancient shells.
Some pick the past clean as though it were a wishbone.
I have woken to their screams in mud-streaked gardens.
I have flattered them with pink hues and low lighting.
I have photographed them in foreign cities, astride bronze horses.
Even as girls, old ladies painted their faces to look like spring
onions. How do I know this? Because I am one of them.
Because I’ve stuffed myself into the corset
of every old lady chasing her lost shaker of salt.
Old ladies, old ladies, stand with me, elbow to elbow,
and scream operatically. Fill your boots with crab apples
and rain. Make heaven weep and liars out of everyone.
Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.
Horse hoofs on gravel. Bike tires grinding past the gate. A mother quail and her chicks bashing through the underbrush. What is portentous here? What insignificant? The six-paned window opens onto a forest diorama. Wing is to sky what foot is to earth. If I plot a rough outline of my life must I stick to it? The birch tree’s dripping ooze again. Chop it down. Stack the rounds under the porch. Red-breasted nuthatches natter like a houseful of girls. Is love over-rated like happiness and sobriety? The endangered planet tilts. Please, yes, finish your thought.
On the back hill the grass grows tall. Beneath a white tent awning I read a book about the dead and the leaves hold their breath. News flash: pain is not the best medicine. Face cream, eye drops, toothpaste, glue. What more do we need? Let’s pull the rug out from under the bed. When the mind knocks, open: here is your disorderly quotient of memories. At the top of the staircase a woman sits at a child’s desk, writing a story. Pull up your green socks, the fictional mother tells her fictional son. No one said we were born to survive. Laughter rippling up from the lake.
Grief slides from a mother’s shoulders onto her daughter’s. For the rest of her life she wears a lead cape: x-ray-weighted. Lightning cuts a strip down the length of a five-hundred-year-old fir tree. As though God were a cat’s paw: one quick swipe. Get out the secateurs, throw down the stepladder, the blackberries are ripe. In dreams my voice flies up like a forkful of hay. Once, as a child, I heard my mother complain that the summers were getting shorter. Oh no! By the time I grow up, there’ll be nothing left.
Patricia Young will publish a new collection of poetry with Biblioasis in the spring of 2016. She lives in Victoria, B.C.