From The Private Lives of Children
Rhea is "Gramp's girl" because the first girl grandchild. Gramp never says so but Brock has heard Mama say it to Papa. Times when Gramp says Who'll I take to the farm, all five want to go but they know two, only two each time. So now's Rhea's turn, and Brock's. Gramp raises peacocks. Useless things, Mama calls them, and ugly, but beautiful when they spread their tails, and mean, and they make the sorest screech ever heard. But Brock and Rhea love all the eyes like sudden spies on them, but more love escaping to the silo and climbing forbidden in when the fodder's being cut and pouring down like rain on them, it could bury them, they scream with joy, they could smother, but climb and climb as it pours in and piles higher and higher under them, till finally they crawl back up the ladder and out the opening—saved!—just like in the Saturday serial at the Pastime. Mostly they follow Gramp—through the barn and cow smell past the giant milk cans and into the building where they make ice cream to sell. And Mrs. Smith always invites them in and tells the kitchen girl to set the table: Time for a hot lunch for the children and Mr. Verity, but calls Gramp Tom when they're talking. After, Brock sticks close to Gramp as he can. In the chicken coop Gramp says One of you can scrape the muck aside, handing a hoe. Me, Brock says, though Rhea doesn't seem to care because she collects eggs with Gramp. Rhea loves eggs. She runs her fingers soft over the eggs like they're already chicks and places each carefully in the basket. Brock knows they don't help much but Gramp likes them happy. You can play in the meadows but don't abuse the cows and be careful you don't step in the turds, your mother'll have a fit, and if you go to the woods, don't go so far in you can't hear me call. But don't go down the cliff to the beach, I can't see you down there. We'll go down when all the family comes with the church for sunrise service Easter. The farm is a long stretch of rocky land right to the edge of the bay and almost down to the end of town, the point in the bay, and the bridge that crosses to an island. They can never go near water without Mama or Papa or Gramp or some grown-up. Let's go to the woods. You go, she says, I'11 stay with Gramp. She picks weed flowers all colors. So he goes furious to the woods. He'd like to get lost or hide and make them look and look, or meet a wild animal, too bad no wolves, anything to make Gramp come. He hunts mushrooms, two pockets full, then thinks Maybe they're poison, Ma can tell when she puts a quarter in when they're cooking and it changes color. He's so mad he could poison Rhea right now. He knows Ma won't have them so he dumps them. By the house Gramp is resting. Rhea's been collecting weed flowers and has an old jam jar and wants water for them. Gramp doesn't use the faucet but goes to the old well Mrs. Smith won't fill in and lets her lower the bucket and, part full, wind it back up—Rhea always loves that—and she fills the jar and arranges the flowers she wants to take home to Ma. Smell, Gramp. Gramp says They don't smell. She laughs. They make your throat yellow. Gramp says That's sun on the buttercups. Anything, Brock thinks, to get her away from Gramp. Gramp's peacocks, thirty Gramp says, are all over the yard—perched and sitting and standing and walking. He thinks I'll fix them. Brock wants to do, do --get Gramp away, fix her. He takes out his slingshot, and from the far side of the yard, behind them, lets a peacock have a pebble smack in its rump: it screams and charges off. He does one more, and fast shoves the slingshot into his pant waist. By now Gramp is standing, confused, and Rhea scared by the rush of peacocks scooting scared all over the yard, racing toward Gramp and Rhea. Gramp walks in the middle. He knows his birds. Rhea follows close behind him, scared when they all flutter around Gramp and run almost smack into them. She flaps her arms and some pick at her arms and legs and neck and face and she screams and screams and closes her eyes and flags her arms screaming Gramp! Gramp! and that makes the birds pick worse and then she covers her face with her hands and they come away blood. She screams My eye! My eye! And Gramp shoos the birds Git! Git!, gripping her and examines and says Not your eyes, thanks be. It's Rhea's neck. A bird has torn a good piece from her neck and it bleeds and bleeds. Brock is scared. By now Mrs. Smith and the girl Liz come running out and Gramp carries her though she can sure walk by herself and in no time they are all inside and Mrs. Smith washes the tear and puts something on it—strong, Rhea cries—and then the bandage and adhesive tape. I don't know what got into those birds, Gramp says. Peacocks are strange, Mrs. Smith says. Who knows better than you, Tom? Outside, Gramp sets Rhea on his lap and smokes a cigarette. When time comes to go home, he carries her piggyback to the car. Ma is flustered. I'm taking you straight to Doctor Bernardo. And Brock's all fury and worried too, because that cut. Like she'd die from it, but didn't, won't! Days and days after, no more bandages but a long wide dark streak on her neck, the left side. It'll shrink a little, Ma says, but she'll always have a scar. A scar? Brock asks. Something for always, Ma says. A scar, Brock says.
Wooden Virgin with Child
Once the trunk of a lovely tree,
She sits on her narrow chair
In an alcove of the Cloisters.
Patient, modestly shawled,
As yet only slightly hunched,
For she is still young, in fact
(Though dry, cracked a bit
Flecks of paint clinging to bodice)
Like one fresh from the convent.
Selfless, she does what she's told
But will not meet your eye.
The manchild between her knees like a doll,
Hand risen to bless, but headless,
Is the one with the book.
You and I stand and look
In our velvet jackets and tough
Boots free to come or go,
At this mystery. Who
Would have been the model, was she his wife?
Honor his wisdom, to know
That God needs the protection
Of this sad, simple woman,
His wish also to pity her, she
Who is said to be the incarnation of pity.
Anatomy of Loss, 1996
Oil on canvas, 60 x 50
Belleville, MI 1998