- Taffeta, and: Hand Me Downs, and: Starlight, and: Blue Flowers
As a girl, she perfected the fox-trot in the hotels of St. Louis. A taffeta skirt circled her ankles, its swishing sound followed her as she moved across the high ceilinged room with crystal chandeliers, the sounds of Glen Miller. Raven hair fell down her shoulders, her eyes like sapphires. Too soon, she married, moved to suburbia, [End Page 94]
had seven children, and ceased to dance. She wore cotton skirts until she discovered no-iron polyester. The Beatles blasted from her radio. But she never forgot the dance, the way she was wrapped in taffeta the color of peaches.
Hand Me Downs
My mother lived her life inside a mask; not the kind to hide from the world, but one to disguise what she couldn’t stand to see. A magical mask that made burning trees look alive with yellow blossoms; poisonous snakes like harmless lizards. As a child, I knew she was wearing it because she couldn’t see the things I saw: the fire that raged around us, our lives in cinder, powerful enough to make her think my father was a harmless lizard. There are times when I catch myself wearing a mask just like mother’s. I think she handed it down to me. [End Page 95]
When I was twelve years old, my father died. It was the night he crept into my dark room where even starlight hid behind the curtains. He walked to my bed, no book in his hand, no glass of milk, and lay down next to me, red hair against my pillow. He stroked my cheek; fingers moved to my chest, the small mounds, which only months before did not exist. I pushed him away until he stopped. My innocence waited outside the window. He left, angry and disappointed not to have found his daughter a willing lover. Afterward, I let the starlight spill in. I knew he was gone forever.
It’s been three years since you died, three years of missed Decembers. Do you know, Mother, I haven’t bought a nightgown since? You gave me so many, Christmas after Christmas, wrapped with tissue in pretty pink boxes. They’re perfectly placed in my drawer; ones for winter, others for summer, some I’ve never worn. The one with lace and little blue flowers around the neck is beginning to go; a few small holes, the blue faded after so many washings. [End Page 96]
But I can’t bring myself to toss it out; the pale blue flowers wilting in the trash, the stranger who comes to haul them away.
Ellen Saunders’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Formalist, Lyric, Prism Quarterly, Pearl, Poetry East, Toronto Quarterly, and elsewhere.