From "Clarty Tinks"
by Ellen Grehan
In the beginning were the sin and the crime, template for the life you gave me, shaped by secrets, lies and ellipses. I’ve forgotten much of those early years: they’re silted over by time.
But some memories are stalkers. They won’t be dismissed and refuse to be forgotten. I catch a glint of steel from the killer shiv they carry when I hear a word in the old tongue, smell Scotch whisky on a man’s breath or get the whiff of desperation from a flyguy working a scam.
And fifty years later I see you as you were on that last night with all your swagger and big talk. Och, but it’s a hard man you are with the pockets of your overcoat bulging with black market sweeties, Yankee smokes, fifteen denier nylons and a bottle of for-export-only Scotch.
"I can lay my hands on anything," you brag as your chipped and jaundiced teeth crack down on a gobstopper the size of a ping-pong ball, splitting it in two. "Oddfellows, Licorice Allsorts, Quality Street." Your tongue scoops up both halves of the gobstopper, shifts them to the back of your mouth where they’re ground into powdery dust.
Aye, a right hard man who knows what language of seduction to use on an eight-year-old with no sweety coupons left on her ration book, a cold ticket whose mouth can crack open a gobstopper and tell lies that suck the juice of a hungry child’s bones. You’re my sometime father, a slideaway man, and Kate, for whom you’ve brought the nylons, cigarettes and whisky, is your mother.
We’re condemned, Kate and I, to life in a helpless tenement that’s blackjacked by age, kneecapped by neglect in a small town now the gravesite of a worked-out coal mine.
The families of those who came in better times from the Highlands and Islands and Ireland are now dazed by poverty and on the dole. But drinking in Monkey MacDougal’s all-night shebeen above the pawn shop takes the edge off the pain. Or so Kate swears.
To our neighbors, we’ve always been strangers: dirty tinkers, "clarty tinks." Still, the women value Kate’s skills as a speywife. She predicts the future by reading tea-leaves and palms, and can tell the gender of an unborn child by passing a pregnant woman’s wedding ring over her belly. But on Saturday nights while I wait outside pubs for Kate to be decanted from their doors, and on Sundays when we sell her paper roses at the gates of the graveyard, my toes curl with shame inside my Welfare-issue workboots that have LCC, for Lanark County Council, stitched on their uppers to prevent them from being pawned.
"Known To Be Left"
by Sharon Olds
If I pass a mirror, I turn away,
I do not want to look at her,
and she does not want to be seen. Sometimes
I don’t see how I’m going to go on doing this.
Often, when I feel that way,
within a few minutes I am crying, remembering
his body, or an area of it,
his backside often, a part of him
perfect to think of, luscious, not too
detailed, and his back turned to me.
After tears, the heart is less sore,
as if some goddess of humanness
within us has caressed us with a gush of tenderness.
I guess that’s how people go on, without
knowing how. I am so ashamed
before my friends–to be known to be left
by the one who supposedly knew me best,
each hour is a room of shame, and I am
swimming, swimming, holding my head up,
smiling, joking, ashamed, ashamed,
like being naked with the clothed, or being
a child, having to try to behave
while hating the terms of your life. In me now
there’s a being of sheer hate, like an angel
of hate. On the badminton lawn, she got
her one shot, pure as an arrow,
while through the eyelets of my blouse the no-see-ums
bit the flesh that no one else
cares to touch. In the mirror, the torso
looks like a pin-up hives martyr
or a cream pitcher speckled with henbit, pussy paws,
full of the milk of human kindness
and unkindness, and no one cares to drink.
But look! I am starting to give him up!
I believe he is not coming back. Something
has died, inside me, believing that,
like the death of a crone in one twin bed
as a child is born in the other. Have faith,
old heart. What is living, anyway,
From Gloria Vanderbilt "Dream Boxes"
Photos by Kerry Schuss