Four Poems

Poetry
Joanne Holdridge


Photo Credit: Thirteen of Clubs/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Giving This Back

In my grandmother’s kitchen
alone with you
you cut my hair.
Trembling with fear, not desire
I stumble through the words
while your hands linger in my hair
brush against my shoulders
make this haircut one long
painful seductive act.

I tell you I don’t want
to suck you off in the back
of your van, in your apartment
when your wife is out
anywhere at all anymore.
Except those aren’t the words
I use because I’m fourteen
and I don’t know what to call
what you made me do
only know that with you
I feel like a dry chewed-on bone
buried in hole after hole
hidden and alone.

You put your hands over your heart
say you’re crushed, you’re hurt
can’t believe I won’t
anymore, you still want me
and I feel guilty, trapped in your pain
even while my mouth is glad
it won’t have to touch you anymore.
When you finally put your scissors away
pull your keys out of your pocket
head out to the driveway and your van
you say I remind you of the Dylan song
“Just Like a Woman,” how I break
just like a little girl.

I’ve carried this memory, humped it
swam leagues underwater with it
hurtled it out into space
only to have it return like a honing beacon
but now finally I’ll say out loud
what I have long known
of course, I broke just like a little girl
I was a girl, I broke.

 

Accidents, After the Fact

A woman driving and talking on her cell phone
almost hits me while I’m on my bike
I stop in time instead and fly,
judging by the bystanders’ reactions,
spectacularly over my handlebars
not a bad way to go all things considered

amazingly I’m barely hurt
just torn jeans, scrapes, bruises
glasses stuck in my left cheek
my husband takes me to the ER
where they are kind and efficient
my face only needs a couple of stitches

all lucky and a gift I report to my baby brother
while he grills me in our father’s voice
on how exactly this happened
makes me show him with a fork and knife
where I was, where the car was, how precisely
I ended up with my face in the street

explaining to my brother’s satisfaction
much more time consuming than falling was
but he can’t seem to stop asking
so desperate is he to find some way to undo it
affix blame, rationally understand
why I wasn’t more damaged

until I can hear like a hive of bees
my father muttering to himself over and over
why he didn’t finish college, hire the right contractor,
fix the retaining walls before they collapsed, all the ways
he could have not gotten my mother pregnant with me
after she was

 

One Step Ahead

Moving to Florida for the winter
convinced my grandmother she might
not have to die after all

the sun was still strong there
leaves thick and green
grapefruits hung heavy on the trees
“Mortality,” she whispered, hanging tight
to my smooth hands with her knobby arthritic fingers
“might not be what I’d imagined,” I nodded

wanted to ask what she meant
but she had already dropped my hands
shrugged off the rumors of sickness and death

and slipped away to drive her boat of a Chevy Impala
as close to the sea as she could without
actually stopping or getting her feet wet

 

To My Grandfather All These Years Dead

When you saw me standing at the end of the dock
new in my womanhood, sure I was alone
you didn’t call to me from the porch
or tell me to put my clothes back on
but watched me strip them off
and stand for a moment or two
debating whether to get wet or not
then the clean dive into cool water

For years I wished you had said something
told me my body was my own
that you regretted silently watching
but telling me later not to let my grandmother
catch me doing that kind of thing
but now I feel only wet-eyed gratitude
at least once before you died
you saw me and didn’t turn away

pencil

Joanne Holdridge lives in Arlington, MA and has recently published poems in Coal City Review, Illuminations, New American Writing, Poem, Talking River Review, and Willow Review. She has work forthcoming in Mudfish and The Midwest Quarterly and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Prior to Covid-19, she spent winters on skis in northern NH and taught poetry and literature classes to ESL students at Bunker Hill Community College for thirty years. Email: joanne[at]meltzer.net