You have confused preserving with pretending.
If you want to eat your leftovers you must not treat them this way,
swaddling them in Saran wrap before they have properly cooled.
You need patience and practice. Try making the distinctions along with me,
between the models we can build and the natural world, which we can only shape.
Repeat: A paper doll is not a shrunken woman but a toy for mimicry;
a plastic-wrapped ham is a ham which has been given more time.
A dummy is a false man with its own sense of humor:
a laminated document remains paper beneath the shine.
A mannequin is not alive but has a fashion sense;
a husband is a man dressed by a wife. He may not like it,
but he must be preserved. A wife knows—you will need to know—
the debonair new cuts for suits, how tight to tie his ties.
A real man is never mistaken for a ventriloquist.
You cannot undress woman the way a paper doll can be undressed:
tabs to pull from flat shoulders, the peeling off of more paper.
If there is pleasure in the layers it is only your imagination.
This over-large supper will be revisited at noon tomorrow.
I predict that as you eat you'll remember Monday at six o'clock,
which is at this moment only thirty minutes gone.
You must keep clear of masquerades, unless you think
your childhood was as recent as this meal we now protect from bacteria.
You will meet people less candid than I am, more overdressed
yet more willing to show their skin. Cooks who do not eat meat.
Gangs of children packing water pistols, which are fake guns
that shoot genuine water. Your suitors will offer you fabric roses,
roses dipped in wax, roses stolen from their mothers, carnations.
These days, you can tell which customers are lesbians.
There are two mannish girls swaggering past the milk,
hefting six-packs of beer like hand weights. The bottles
clatter on the way to the cart but end up muffled
by a nest of kale and bok choy, frozen pizza, frosted cereal,
whole wheat flour. Contradictions they must
find comfortable, considering they've made peace,
supposedly, with the notion of a twinned mate, a perverse
sort of sisterhood. I don't need these sections I traverse:
organics, alcohol, freezer. I am only here because
my original cart squeaked. One bent wheel
can make so much noise so I head back to the entrance
to try again, test drive first, return through foreign ground,
shortcuts that have put me in the path of the same lesbians
at least twice in two minutes. I don't see why these women
have to touch each other in public—casual brushes
even worse than hand-holding. What they do in the bedroom
is none of my business. And I'm forced to shield the children
from such foolish intimacy on routine trips downtown. To lie
about what kind of love it is. I'm glad I'm shopping alone this week:
it turns out the second cart does squeak, damn it, a tiresome whimper,
and in my rush to rid myself of this errand I take a corner too fast
and upset a display of Stovetop stuffing. Of course
one of the lesbians notices. She laughs but she helps. Of course
her shirt has a collar and buttons and cuffs. Of course
the sleeves are rolled to reveal tanned arms, strong hands.
We fill our arms with red boxes of fake food and rearrange
for an eternity. Of course she smiles at me when we finish,
says, "Have a good one," and wheels away with her bounty.
She will not think of me again. I have made myself ugly
in pink polyester. I look older than I am, almost invisible
to interesting women. Too shaky-warm and desolate to stand here
thinking, I lumber and squeak toward the deli counter I intended
to visit all along. The comfort of meat, already dead. The comfort
of providing everything for a family that will never be my family.
italicized text from Elocution Simplified, Walter K. Fobes, 1877
My oldest elocution book says, if a good teacher is not to be had,
use this book. I have been a good teacher to the children.
Elizabeth, well-spoken if shy, will go to Yale this fall.
Tom and Theo earn A's in debate, compete in rhetoric, are,
in a word, prepared even when being extemporaneous. But
voices alone are not earners of love.
Because my whole life has been the precious care
of language, I have lied to the children about the origin
of happiness. Now I know The fingers must be made nimble,
and the wrists elastic, before any thing else can be well done but my joints
whine like dust against dust. If my muscles freeze at dinner and drinks
how will I explain myself in words? How will I kiss if a kiss
requires a body to move closer and a mouth to twist out a new pattern?
Sometimes I think my own first name is Nanny
but tonight I need a teacher to remind me: If you were to run
a steam-engine, you would be very careful to place the machine in such
a position that it would do the most work with the least wear and tear.
It's so obvious, a lesson I have taught in many ways: wring out
the dishrag, sweep starting at the corners, iron with enough
steam, the children and I precise as little conductors. You must
do the same with this machine, your body. My body, wanting
to work. But untouched is not a position.
Last Sunday I took two hundred out of savings.
Some is in my wallet for tonight. Some went for clothes.
At the department store I paid cash for denim,
black underwear, brassiere, and camisole, black flats.
And my favorite: a sweater the color of a thunderstorm. Suzy
has broken every rule to reach me. The least I can do is dress
like myself for her. With pleasant quality you will make listeners; but you will
soon weary them, unless you make them understand by clear articulation.
God help me articulate with limbs tonight. With warmth
in my throat, lipstick on my lips. Please nimble my fingers. Elasticize
my wrists. Let my new sweater go to show I have a figure and I love
the rain. Do not let your audience be reminded that you breathe at all.
Kathleen Jones is a poet, designer, and technical writer in Wilmington, NC. She has an MFA in poetry from UNC Wilmington. Her poems included in Grist are part of an in-progress book length project. Her work is forthcoming from Rust + Moth and can be found in Meridian, BOAAT, storySouth, LEVELER, and others.