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-spit.

And I loved her for this.
Her watermelon love,
her robust approach to life
      to pain.
All pollyanna and looking on the bright side.

—————

The ax always came down in
the most
un-expected 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, yes,
but they cut through the air between us with a blow,
landing like bullets and bites, skewers and sledgehammers.

– Blubbering female – 
                  – Human tragedy – 
 – Embarrassment –
                    – Worthless little shit –

And he won this way every time, didn’t he?
How could he not.
Me, adoring, tentative and eager to please.
What other man would I meet with such devotion?

As the years passed like this, “you bastard,”
I would mutter under halted breath.
But such words,
hovering cautiously inside me,
found no place to land.
Sinking down to my heart
they made their way through the hole at the bottom
where everything drained out
trickling into no more than a puddle on the floor.

———

“Pay no mind!” she said.
“Walk tall.”
And how could I not listen,
she was my mother, after all.

So, I did.
Drawing myself up from the kitchen counter
shoving my “blubbering” away.
Who cares that I was only 5ft tall?
With head cocked, arms and chest pulled in firm,
I cranked up my buttocks 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 me surely up an inch or so.
Rising above the rabble,
(isn’t that how the men do it, after all?)
above the crowds of weaker ones
who didn’t know, like I now did,
how to withstand the blows.

I would prove myself strong
like she did
-my “walk tall” mother.
My mother who learned the same lesson from her father.
I’ll survive
to spit the pits
from Watermelons
with gusto.

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

———–

But, we pay a price for this, women.

In time, it was harder to love her,
for all the ways she looked away,
smiled at disaster,
chose pride over courage,
and “happiness” over honesty.
It was harder to love her for all the ways
she convinced herself
she was bigger than the hurt,
stronger than it,
refusing her tears,
and mine,
refusing the Truth.
But  most of all, it was harder to love her,
for all the times she never said “No”
     to a man.

No doubt she thought we could escape it together like this,
with laughter and mealy, red cheeks.
After all, women have done this for an age and more.
Tried everything.
They’ve had to.
Anything.

But the sickness in this is never far away,
the sickness in puddling or in rising up that 
both fall short of a woman’s real strength.
And this daughter,
who turned out to have the heart of a poet,
knew it so.

“Rise above it,” she has said,
while the disease of invulnerability 
ran its course
through her veins.
“Rise above it” while self-reliance
circled around her
like alligators around
a castle of delusions.

“Rise above it,”
as the truth itself circled,
waiting for the day
when the laughter ran out
when the memories came back

-as they do-

no matter the heights 
no matter the watermelons.

 

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