A Nurse of English Literature
One holiday when new drapes iced the wide French windows
Sugared scents competed with basted fowl making
The air nearly as thick as the million random words that
Ricocheted off the festooned ceiling all evening.
My father usurped the seat at the head of the knotty pine table.
He had not yet had to choose between my mother and me.
His iron maiden hug left Vitalis clawprints on the bodice of my
Orange tulip party dress which coordinated with the curled
Peach streamers and honeycomb domes positioned strategically.
My mother’s coke bottle eye glasses glinted in reaction to
Lainie’s wind chime laughter, her voice a Brahms musical scale.
But my mother pouted and whined with each glint that she couldn’t
Get the punchline, demanding Lainie repeat her entire story.
In the room my thoughts would come and go
Railing against the James brothers or C.P. Snow.
But Lainie had begun to butter the chale I had baked especially
For her husband Marv whose thalidomide consigned right hand
Jutted straight out of his shoulder, forcing his wife to do for him.
The size 2X sister-in-law was working hard to not notice handicaps,
Busily refuting each imaginary voice her autistic daughter animated.
My first son wondered aloud if his cousin could possibly peer into
A dimension the rest of us mere mortals had been deprived of seeing.
My father-in-law covered his egg yolk yellow silk tie
With one of the Marimekko napkins I had sewn for the occasion
While his wife made him rechew the menu of some meal she had cooked
In the 50’s which the family regurgitated every subsequent festivity.
"Well, Miss College Student," Daddy yelled as though he were
Hard of hearing (which he may have been by then).
I called him Daddy even after I was older than he.
"Well, now that you’ve bankrupted your husband,
What’re you going to do with all of that studying?"
A poinsettia red sunset cascaded outside the windows, tumbling
Right into my eyes. "Tell us what you’ll do with all them books."
I couldn’t see but I knew he must have been talking to me.
"After I graduate," I told Daddy, "I’m going to be a doctor."
"You mean a nurse!" my children quickly vocalized a capella,
Their little boy faces searching my father’s five o’clock stubble
For a resemblance which wouldn’t show up for another decade.
"My mommy’s gonna be a nurse!" they chanted to the in-laws.
Only almond macaroons and neologisms filled the mouths of
These babes everyone was too preoccupied to listen to as they
Consumed all the space in that room, double exposing time.
My mother was cleaning her teeth with the gold pick the in-laws
Gave her the Chanukah before. My niece had that confused look
She got whenever her mother or father plucked candy from her hands,
And Elaine—long before leukemia became her vampire lover—
Turned contortionist, cubing Marv’s game hen while nursing her baby.
Or maybe someone did hear. "You’re the most ambitious woman
I ever knew," my father-in-law pronounced between bites of stuffing
And my parents—bored, already risen, my father yelling to my mother
"What are you waiting for, Christmas or New Year’s? Let’s get
This show on the road—"
were too preoccupied to envision any future.
Who foresaw my destiny would staunch the flow of run-on sentences
Could incubate pop culture antibodies in an attempt to resuscitate diction,
Should force feed skills to delay the iminent death of writing and reading?
I wonder if they can look up or down from wherever they may be
To see their younger daughter has indeed met the family expectations.
Look Ma! I am an intensive care nurse of literature and composition.