by Nancy Gauquier
My father was the son
of his father’s step-daughter,
who died young, like her mother.
“Worked to death,” my mother said,
my father never talked about them,
he was raised by the housekeeper,
and worked in factories
from the time he was eight years old,
except for when he fought
in two wars, and by the time
I got to know him, he was half-deaf
from bombs that burst his eardrum,
and limped on one shrapnel-deformed foot.
My macho father, who chain-smoked,
coughed his guts out every morning,
and boasted continually of every fight,
who coached little league and badgered his sons
into stubborn walls of reproach.
My mother struggled through the sixth grade,
during the depression, there were years when
they couldn’t afford to go to school,
I never saw her read anything,
except Sears catalogues
and True Confessions magazines,
raised as the only daughter
of a father who doted on her,
and beat his wife.
Trapped in a treadmill
of futile attempts to keep up
the facade of the happy suburban life,
she juggled bills like meteoric balls
to keep them from falling,
and crushing us all.
Seven children, five survived,
hostages of a marriage gone wrong -
my father, the soldier, the proud warrior -
my mother, the Puritan with the Victorian
figurines and angels guarding their room,
for my father, sex was another conquest,
for my mother, another defeat,
after she had her last child,
I could hear her slap him in the bedroom,
“Richard, stop it,” she would say.
“The children . . .”
as if we were all gathered
with ears pressed to the door.