at Length

Notes Toward An Elegy

—Julia Thacker

[She calls her second husband Unfortunate Mistake and the third Bigger Mistake]

Once I resided, a curl the size of a pig’s knuckle
below her pelvic bone. They sliced her
down the middle to lift me out,
then fastened her with buttons.
Her C-section scar a purple welt. Navel herniated.
Teeth gone bad because babies
leech calcium. Dimples and dentures.
On the run from this husband or that,
she checks us into The Starlite Motel.
I drive our Corvair convertible.
Afternoons, we lounge poolside as cars swish by.
We blister. Our skin peels off in sheets.

[She blotted lipstick on our report cards, the backs of light bills]

A girl in the Cumberland Mountains, she ironed God’s white shirts.
Forgot sheets on the line overnight, wind-knotted sails of frost.
Wed the football captain, Garland, 4F and bitter.
Stepped out of loose clothes.
Horsehair-sofa honeymoon, cold cream for lubricant.
She worked in a munitions factory beside German prisoners of war,
ordered not to look the blond boys in the eye.
V for Victory. All the silk for parachutes.
She concocted leg paint from tea. Drew seams
up the backs of her calves with eyebrow pencil.
Read fan magazines in the bath.
What hobbies do you share with Rita Hayworth?
Candlepin bowling.

[Pretend you are in prison, glad for one cracker, one stalk of celery]

Will I prepare her body? Swipe her lips with Revlon
Cherries in the Snow, Persian Melon? She buys herself
greeting cards, Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Thanksgiving,
and signs them From your cold-hearted daughter.
Bundled for me to find when I come home.
Becomes a fraternity housemother
and resides in a converted garage. At Spring Fling,
shows off her jitterbug. Teaches pledges the Rock Step,
the Cuddle.

[She was the height of a Renaissance suit of armor]

The first time a man gave her roses, she was 67.
He took her for cod cheeks in tarragon sauce.
When she died I found the menu in her Bible.

[She kisses the Orchard Manor attendants, her minimum-wage daughters]

She steps out of loose clothes
for weekly weigh-in. Loss, loss, loss.
She claims the Home shows her bathing
on the evening news. All the glass
she breaks. A swan. A mirror.
Nude, she strolls to the common area.
Must they call the daughter?
At her post, a Queen Anne chair,
she awaits her subjects.

[She is falling, falling]

Out of bed, out of bathtubs, out of cypress trees.
She bequeaths her river-riven heart,
fake knee, honey-comb brain. At Christmas,
she looks like a starved horse, skin
hanging in folds. A row of girls
in white bonnets line the hall. A sprig
of violets in the snow.
I know they aren’t real she says.

Julia Thacker is the granddaughter of a Harlan County coal miner. She first came to Massachusetts as a fellow of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. The work she produced there was subsequently awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her poems and stories have appeared in AGNI, Little Star, The Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review, New Directions, and The Pushcart Prize anthology. Other honors include a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the Grolier Poetry Prize. She lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.