Summoned

by Julia Wendell

We'd sit with hands folded on laps
in her slip-covered chairs,

mouths watering for hard sauce, gravy,
croque messieurs and dessert meringues,

Grandmother's swollen feet
stuffed into satin flats with tiny bows,

stabbing under the table
for the elusive buzzer.

We cringed at what the harsh noise brought—
a servant to attend to all our needs—

Nanny would complain that the chicken
was never hot enough, Bette

never fast enough, and deaf as well.
Hotter if I'd gone to get it myself,

we'd mimic in the station wagon's back seat,
overfed and restless, heading home.

Eventually, the buzzer was disconnected,
but remained a silent bump in the carpet

we'd search for, crouched beneath
the table during Hide-n-Seek.

The domestic war raged on, Bette's apron
stained with goose guts and hollandaise,

her nylons swishing against marbled thighs,
as she tried her best to hurry, armed

with a strange love or need that tied her
to this woman who never understood

Bette didn't need a bell to be summoned.
My grandmother died, followed closely

by Bette—my shiva interrupted
by my eight-year-old

sick in bed upstairs,
bragging, when she’s well enough to talk,

about the ten times she's already puked.
A scratchy intercom summons me

from the barn, the Bette-in-me offering
crushed ice, popsicles, and ginger ale.

I open the window to fraught spring air
and the goings-on in the old maple,

the roiling ocean of its lime-green leaves.
Sitting in my spurs and chaps,

feeling the frantic-in-me dying,
because my daughter needs me

to share her aimless sense of sick time,
when it's all right not to do a thing

but listen to the catbird in the tree,
rub her thigh and count to a hundred,

move from bed to stairs to door to barn
and back again, with the progress of a love,

which only goes away
so it can come right back.


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