by Lynne Viti
Get up in front of your third grade class,
on a rainy day when everyone’s done the seatwork,
with twenty minutes to kill before the bell.
Sing Secret Love or
Young and Foolish— unaccompanied.
Bother Mrs. Smith till she lets you sing solo,
What Child Is This in the Christmas concert
in the gym, everyone in white shirts,
the boys in dark pants,
the girls in navy blue skirts,
yours is a cheap one
from Epstein’s in Highlandtown
because your mother
says you’ll only wear it once,
why spend more money?
Sing the Telephone Hour from Bye Bye Birdie
at the first assembly in your all-girls school,
Eight girls in summer uniforms, fists to ears
Crooning into imaginary handsets,
hi Penny, hi Helen, what’s the story?
–on the stage that rises up
from the gym’s polished floorboards.
Then the singing stops, at least in public.
Singing in the shower doesn’t count, nor does
singing at rallies, ain't nobody goin to turn me round
where have all the flowers gone, one, two three,
what’re we fightin for, don’t ask me.
In the car on the way home from the play,
slaphappy and tired, sing the Marseillaise,
Sing show tunes, that was a real nice clambake,
At home, sing Surabaya Johnny along with Bette Midler
On the stereo, the last record on repeat, repeat.
When the babies come, sing old Beatle songs, sing Sinatra,
It happened in Monterey a long time ago, sing Girl Scout tunes,
I’m happy when I’m hiking, baby’s boat’s a silver moon,
sing Raffi, Rosenshontz, can you tell me how to get,
how to get to Sesame Street.
Now it’s quiet in the house. Everyone’s
out or has moved away. Leave the radio off,
keep the Ipod silent. Sing
whatever you please.
Two nights after
The president was shot
my mother went out.
She put on silver blue eyeshadow.
She wore her Persian lamb jacket
with the mink collar.
It was the year
she was having the kitchen redone.
The house was in disarray.
I sat on our brocade sofa.
The small black and white tv.
It sat in a temporary place
atop an end table.
the news replay
Jack Ruby shooting Oswald.
A boy I thought I liked came by.
I didn’t like the way
he chugged from the green Coke bottle,
swished it around like mouthwash
before he swallowed.
I never forgave my mother.
I wanted her to sit
on the sofa with me
Don’t kid yourself
into thinking that the past isn’t still
stuck inside you, no matter how you will it
away or meditate until you think you touch
infinity, or the edges of it, if infinity
has edges, like the edges of the yellow walls
where they met
or the edges of the wooden window frames
in the room where you gladly gave up
your virginity, another thing
in your to-do list before college.
That longhaired girl with ivory skin
freckled in summer, body slimmed
by regimen of hardboiled eggs and grapefruit
— she’s still with you. She stretched out
on the narrow bed, raised her arms
above her head, looked into the eyes
of her novice lover, the one
she chose for the deflowering,
as if she might find some clue,
some notion of how to be a woman.
And after, when the thing was done,
she was done with him as well.
It was more or less a
disappointment, an act
to have behind her.
When he left that day, she knew
only that one more line
could be crossed off her list.
The old steamer trunk her aunt had lent her
sat in the hallway, its drawers and shelves
waiting to be filled.