Norma Chapman


I fall asleep in a shadow
of sweat. I wheeze.
My mother throws back three
jiggers of bourbon and lies
on her bed in our room.
I hear her rumbling breath.

The hairdresser's daughter
died of the black measles. It is better
to have pneumonia, but no one is safe.
War is coming.

I dream that everyone
in Perris, California, is playing
ring around the rosy. The people who
fall don't get up. They die singing
I've got American fever. My cousin
gives me her hand. We sing.


My father was the fifth husband of his second wife.
The one summer I stayed with them, she told me
she now had what she had always wanted: initials
that spelled ALL. She took me to her beauty parlor,
frizzed my hair, let me read the books labeled risqué
at the front of her shop, and gave me a green crocheted hat
with soft balls dangling on yarn strands around the brim.
I loved it, though I can't say I loved her. Daddy said,
in front of both of us, that I came first. That's
what I'd always wanted, but I didn't believe him.

One night I heard a loud noise from their bedroom.
Alta Lee ran into the living room where I was sleeping
on the couch. She showed me the inside of her arm.
A bloody line began at the crook of her elbow
and ended at the wrist. Look, this is what your father
did to me. Daddy ran after her, yelled at me to get dressed
and began to stuff my clothes into a suitcase. I brought him
my hat, but Alta Lee grabbed it, You can't take that
it's mine. My father said Bitch and we left. As we walked
to the car he said, I doubt I'll ever see my clothes again.
I knew my green hat was gone for good.

Norma Chapman lives in Brunswick, a small town in Western Maryland.  She started writing poetry after turning sixty. Her poems have been published in Passager, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Iris, The Sow's Ear, River Styx, and elsewhere.  In 2003, she received a Maryland State Arts Council Grant.



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A CLOSER LOOK: Terence Winch

Karren Alenier

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