We just saw Revolutionary Road and I'm buzzing inside with the personal connections it seems to have conjured. The men in floppy, wide-leg, cuffed suits; the squint at the smoke curling up from cigarettes; women in neat housedresses, hose and pumps at the kitchen sink; the trays of little hors d'oeuvres, the clink of ice cubes; the hiss of conversations kids weren't supposed to hear.
Kaffeeklatsch and a Dry Handshake
My mom never cried in front of us
When I was 10, I saw my dad bring her to tears
back up against the door frame
biting her lip
he left for work in a cold fury.
That would have been about the time she was planning to leave him
And he was having an affair with a receptionist.
I never heard my dad scream—
in anger, in rage
to trigger that expulsion of bad air.
He told me once
he knew five minutes into the marriage
it was a mistake.
She revealed that his botched circumcision
made sex painful
His advice to me: sex is over-rated.
In 1942, he was an escapee from small-town divinity studies,
given a uniform & a camera & license
to ride a Harley around the City of Light.
She frequented Montmartre;
He said he fell in love
when he saw her bare feet in platform sandals
silhouette of her legs through home-sewn, flowered dress
the sun in her hennaed hair
She'd had an abortion before she met him.
He photographed the liberation of camps
spent some time in the army psych ward in Berlin
Back in Paris, his new father-in-law counseled
Get her pregnant, settle her down.
Not a good move against someone
already forced to drop out of her beloved Philosophy studies
the Sorbonne in wartime
trumped by a typewriter
But when my brother arrived,
she loved him so much she was stunned;
even his poop smelled okay to her
she knitted tiny sweaters & sewed
a wool coat for trundling the baby about
in the Bois de Boulogne.
Fancied himself an artist & a writer
lover of language with no time for subjunctives
He developed a slow hatred of bourgeois manners & constraints
Living with her parents was suffocating both of them.
He brought her back from France
to his folks in southern Missouri
but it was her own family that drove her
here with a young man
of no particular consequence—
just a spark she thought she saw
a way to escape her father.
A year later, I arrived
home to 866 Bideker Street, Fort Worth, Texas
taking my place by my big brother
the same week my father lost another job
I remember a guy going through the neighborhood
A camera & a mangy pony,
Dressed us up with hats & kerchiefs
took our picture on top of that pony
outside our house in the summer heat.
My mother went back inside
tried once again to make sense of a menu—
no fresh fish or fruit or vegetables
and sliced bread that appeared
to be made from white sponge.