Watermelons

Unknown“Walk tall,” were her words,
rise above it.
I can feel her pride like a crisp slice of watermelon,
cold and sharply cut.
She loved feeding us watermelon,
laughing at our sticky faces,
our cheeks turning mealy red,
spitting out pits between giggles.
Walk tall -spit-
Walk tall -spit-
You’re better than this.
I loved her for this,
her watermelon love, her robust approach to life,
to suffering.
All pollyanna and looking on the bright side.

The axe came down at the most
unlikely moments.
The only predictable thing was that
no one
would be around.
His (my father’s) select words
packed more than a punch.
They were measured and “reasonable”
but landed like bullets and bites,
skewers and sledgehammers.

“Blubbering female” “ Human tragedy.” “ Embarrassment.” “ Worthless little shit.”
Cutting through the air between us
they hit with a blow.
He won every time.
How could he not?
Adoring, tentative and eager to please;
he was my father, after all.
What other man would a daughter choose
to offer her passions to with such devotion?

When I was old enough to begin to know better,
“You bastard,” I thought, under my breath.
But hovering, quietly and cautiously inside me,
those words, and others like them,
found no place to land.
They sunk down to my heart
and found a hole at the bottom
where everything drained out.
Trickling down into no more than a puddle on the floor.
(It’s a wonder I walked away at all.)

Pay no mind, she said.
“Walk Tall.”
Don’t let it get you down.

And that’s how I did it,
drawing myself up from the kitchen counter
shoving my “blubbering” away.
“OK,” I said,
“I guess I’ll do it on my own.”
And I did.
Head cocked, arms and chest pulled in firm,
buttocks cranked up for the walking “tall”.

Never, NEVER again ask for help.
And that’s how “you bastard” found its way back up,
into my muscles, my spine,
stretching my short, 5ft frame
surely up an inch, or so?
Rising above the rabble,
(isn’t that how the men do it?)
above the crowds of weaker ones
who didn’t know, like I now did, how to withstand the blows.

I would prove it to them, like she did,
(my “walk tall” mother)
who learned it from her father, too, after all.
I would prove
that I could survive to spit pits and
eat watermelons with gusto.

I loved my mother for all that, for the way she taught herself
and then me, her daughter,
to survive
by pretending it all never happened.

But this kind of living comes with a price and,
in time, it was hard to love her,
for all the ways she looked away,
for all the ways she could never really
said “No”
to a man.
For all the ways she convinced herself
she could be bigger than the pain,
refusing the tears,
refusing her true-ground.

I know she thought we could escape it together,
with laughter and mealy, red cheeks.
She wanted nothing more for me.
After all, for ages women have done it like this.
Tried everything. Anything.
Haven’t they?
But that sickness is never far away,
and her daughter,
who turned out to have the heart of a poet,
knew it so.
“Rise above it,” she said,
while the disease of self-reliance
ran its course
through her veins.
Circling, like alligators,
in the moat of protective delusions.

Circling…
Waiting for the day
when the laughter runs out,
when the memories come back
-as they do-
no matter the watermelons.

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