Bio Note: As I look out my window onto trees that have mostly shed their leaves, I think about how long I have written poetry—most of my long life. But the length of time is not what’s important to me. Poetry has informed my life and given it a depth and range I could not have imagined. The internet has extended that range in numerous ways, providing opportunities such as Verse-Virtual and its community, for which I am most grateful. My poems have appeared most recently in Hamilton Stone Review, Persimmon Tree and Two Hawks Quarterly.
One Full Bath
In a family where ten of us shared one full bath,
I learned that cleanliness is not next to godliness.
That the sight of my brother in his boxers
emerging from his bedroom was enriching
as was his distress at seeing me capture the bathroom.
That nobody savors scouring the bathtub.
That sisters with long hair can be a real bitch.
That the water heater held finite hot water
and that a tepid bath just doesn’t do it.
That you can ignore your mother’s wrath:
what are you doing in there? —only so long.
That one full bath was a big deal for my mother.
That she grew up in a house with no bath:
a childhood better left unspoken.
Better yet, she had so much class
she never told us how good we had it.
My brother offers us tea when we visit,
orange pekoe, our mother’s favorite brew,
and I’m surprised he’s held onto the old ways
for wasn’t he a dare-devil jumping from planes
loaded with his heavy gear, his night-vision goggles
and guns, a warrior and not one to set out the tea things:
a pitcher of milk, a sugar bowl, teaspoons.
And wasn’t he the soldier home from the war
who dared bring beer into the house
where our father forbade alcohol,
our two uncles, two drunks, stewed in degradation?
Thus the six-pack thrown into the snow, my brother,
ever the rogue, taking to the local bar for his brews.
So I’m amused when he serves us tea,
proudly relating how he saves his squinched teabag
to make a second cup.
Here: a poem I’ve written about you.
A confused squinch
and he says,
I didn’t think you thought about me.
Not a lot, I fail to say, but after this,
he likes me so much he sends me a sturdy fruit cake
each Christmas because I said I liked it,
God bless you, I said, when my office mate
I don’t want your god blessing me,
he sneered, irate, or pretending to be.
OK, I thought, no more blessings for you,
but his contempt grated.
What did he mean about my god?
Why would someone hate being blessed
by my god or anyone’s god?
Maybe he was a Unitarian. But they believe in god,
don’t they? Perhaps he sensed a Papist—which I was
by upbringing if not by observance.
Gesundheit, my father used to say, when we were kids,
his German an odd benefit of military service.
It was fun to stomp heels, stand ramrod straight
and command: Gesundheit!
The next time my office mate sneezes, I resist my desire
to offer a blessing. He doesn’t want it, even if he needs it.
Gesundheit, I say instead, no god involved
only a general wish that he flourish
despite the splatter of viruses coursing towards my desk
and his pitiful need to control my utterances.
©2020 Claire Keyes
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