Susan Mitchell Evans




Our Neighbor Seems to Have Suffered a Loss

 

Our next-door neighbor storms her mower through

the Indiana Sawgrass, donning her

Jackie O sunglasses, even way past

nightfall.  And I will call her Doyle, which

is just a random name because we've not

ever exchanged such pleasantries as "hi,"

or a half-cup of sugar, or the age

of her grown son in uniform.  I've seen

him standing at attention there—or maybe

that was just a garden statue she could

no longer maneuver her machine past.

 

She's hellbent on cutting a hundred swaths

so straight, a blindfolded soldier could shuffle

his way ahead forty paces and not

vary one nth degree of latitude.

Her night vision must originate from

instinct, because in the thick, grey gloaming,

under her black helmet of wavy hair,

Ms. Doyle never glances down for a hint

of moonlight.  She just stares straight ahead and

marches past me like a paratrooper,

armed against my gossipy speculations.

 

Her urge is so violent, I suspect she

must be battling an indefatigable weed:

an enemy whose death-grip threatens to choke

out all other life-forms and leave her yard

bereft and bladeless as a battlefield.



Daughters and Mothers, Early Morning

 

Stirring, my daughter Lily will soon click off her alarm and spring up.

Within ten minutes, she'll be bounding down the stairs with her puppy.

 

Propped up on about five pillows, I check the weather and sip stiff Kona.

I marvel at the energy all around me, the rain and drive, while my bones

 

moan slowly into gear. My husband calls me lovely still. My hair,

like my mom's, at least still holds its color, which I've heard is rare

 

for a woman my age.  Nothing I say or read about patterns of life and death

—the generations changing hands—can gray my hair or slow this weather.

 

And so I dress, and smile my way into the kitchen, where my demure

mother stoops by the stovetop over a pan of scrambled eggs, stirring.

 

                                                                                               

Cords

 

Before our first date I confessed to Steven

I once was Amish, not quite sure

how he'd take it—especially

when I told the truth about my guiltless

and slightly cynical Rumspringa:

how back in my buggy days,

the most brazen of my friends

would grip the horse's reigns with one hand

and adjust the dial of a transistor radio

with the other as we clopped along. I'd wave

at the tourists who—shy by association—

thought us quaint

and innocent as saints.

 

I explained to Steven about the hooks

that could catch you in the hall of my family's

house, where the buttonless bonnets hung

in a row as symmetrical as Scherenschnitte,

our paper cut-outs. Then, as if

I couldn't stop myself, I went ahead

and described my unalluring dresses,

my feral scent without deodorant,

and the blonde braids woven tight as ropes

behind my head: how their force used to give me

an almost startled look—

a countenance visitors might

have misread as naïveté.

 

And before Steven and I got involved,

I had to warn him that though in theory

I'd been shunned and my family cord

cut, he might still get tangled

in the invisible line running between the Great

Plains and me.  He wondered aloud if he could

exert enough torque in the tug-of-war

against the suspendered man who wanted to reel me

back to the plain house—the home without

electric lights or a dishwasher,

so quirky in the way its joists

almost buckle under the heavy

swell of love and order.

 

 

Mulligatawny Stew

 

In the kitchen with my daughter Lizzie, I peel one  

card off another from the open-mouthed box.

Our mother-bear forebears' recipes read like little i.d.'s,

 wizened on 3x5's

and stuck with smudgy glue.

Now it's Lizzie and me, just two

 

still standing on the linoleum floor.

We rue the loss of the women who

paced the same squares once upon a time, not long

ago at all.  A few feet over, Lizzie whisks

a figure-8 for a buttery roux, the way her Granddame

taught her—for perfect Mulligatawny Stew.

 

Beside a mason jar of red lentils, we've arranged

a pile of heirloom vegetables—celeriac, ruby carrots,

purple onions. Grandpa Boggin's huge cast-iron cauldron

will meld the array into one big happy family—

at least after each  ingredient has first

roiled and sputtered its excess over the edges.

 

Soon I will write up my own thoughts about the best

garam masala mix. Though she might doubt

me now—unseasoned as she is—Lizzie stands erect as I say,

"The grey-haired old aunties who used

this stove, too: that soon will be me, Lizzie—and soon enough you."

I snap the fan to high and try to picture the absent faces,

 

but they're like pinches of curry already blowing from my palm.

Great-aunt Vali's card suggests that the anise seed

must be deep ebony and packed with anethole.  Lara says turmeric

is the key. Grand Auntie Rhee insists on enough cumin to clear

your head.  As if to reiterate, her orange-brown fingerprints

take tiny steps across the page and walk off in a steady line.



Love and Cancer

 

The news dropped on the first day of the new millennium when

Dr. Peck phoned and said, "There's something with your biopsy."

When I froze in place, right there on the red sofa, Franky the cat

stopped his humming and bolted off my lap. He was peeved

that his neck massage had frozen to a sudden standstill.

 

The diagnosis was muted, some acronym I forgot

the second it landed.  My husband Jonathan recalled the name,

but to me it could have been SOS or DOA.  A swirl of statistics

and letters had collected themselves into a snaky comet

in my chest, and we'd shot off into a black lake.

 

I imagined I could drown there. In fact, I almost did: that first

night Jonathan and I lay in anoxic stupors, as if a tsunami had

swallowed us before we heard the early warning siren.  Our bed

was awash in a sticky saline solution—tears, so many tears—

and sweat. We'd never felt anything like it.

 

For the next week, friends and God shouted, "Just do the next thing."  

So, I went shopping.  I purchased socks for my children by the dozen:

anklets, athletic tubes, and crew—white, white, and white.

The way I figured it, I could be hospitalized all year and the babies

still would have swaddled feet, warm and secure in all that clean.

 

Quite a bit of solace, the socks.  The only remaining pre-surgery detail

was the persistent head lice we'd caught from the kids.  Jonathan examined

my hair every night the week prior to admission, using baby oil and a comb

that had impossible teeth.  Still, I checked into the O.R. with nits.

They had the tenacity of Super-Glue.

 

For eight hours of black and then five hours in recovery, I starred

in my own half-dreams. I saw myself sorting through mountains of

unmatched socks or rubbing my hair with vinegar, tea-tree extract,

and an oily hair spray—some sort of sheen I'd heard would make both

lice and cancer slide right off.  I felt my bed had landed in Bedlam.

 

Rumor has it I patted my head every few minutes and asked where

my hair was, fearing the surgeon had sent it to the lab for tests. Jonathan's

response was the same again and again. He'd clear a path through

all the tubes and beeps and whisper to me that my hair

was right there where it had always been, supple and full and healthy.





Susan Mitchell Evans is a poet and fiction-writer living in Athens, Georgia.  Her work has appeared most recently in Connecticut River Review and Athens Magazine.  She teaches Advanced Placement English Literature and oversees an annual creative writing festival. 










                                    

 

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