You are born in Wilkes-Barre,
blank windows overlooking the valley,
feet away from the churning Susquehanna, watery streets
and overturned coffins a year before you are born.
You are taken home to a place you will
never-ever leave. Your mother
paints a two-story stucco. You gurgle alone in a
playpen, older siblings off in public school.
You have a terrier mix, low
to the ground with a wiry, knowing face
so that now when you look into the face of a terrier,
it feels like looking at all dogs, like looking at the first dog.
She is named Pokey, after The
Pokey Little Puppy. You have the board book, wear out
the threads with turning. She hates kids until
you come along: food dropper in a high chair.
Years pass playing on the back porch with dolls.
And then it’s public school, kindergarten burning
that first year, crowded into another school,
temporary visitors in one space, then a new school:
new carpets and new paint, nice windows tacked
with pastel construction-paper cutouts. More alone time
on a playground staring through a fence at other
houses that hold other lives you will never know.
And like that, in a flash, school’s over, say goodbye
to high school friends, go to college, get engaged
for three months, cheat on him when he’s in England,
try to make it work and fail, fail, fail. Work
in a record store, discover poetry, meet a man,
let him be your best friend. Then when your girlfriend
says he’s cute, change your mind, maybe he is,
set out on a quest to make him love you and only you.
Though he’s damaged goods,
his resistance only makes you work harder.
You’re like that after all,
hopeless cases, lost causes, heartbreak, heartache.
Move in with him, begin changing his house,
get married, become people who work on houses.
Get angry at the neighbor over driveway reflectors,
decide you couldn’t possibly live there for one more second.
Sell first day, full asking price.
Buy a ridiculously large Victorian,
not having enough furniture, not having
any children to fill that house.
Spend one lonely winter in an empty, cold Victorian,
learn to hate that house a little, try to get pregnant again
and again and again, feel lifelong grief by spring. Husband
buys motorcycle, speeds away on rural roads into green hills.
Long spring grass, rain and cold every May day.
Decide to adopt kids, an offhand remark from a coworker,
if you can accept the idea of adoption.
Dive headlong into home studies and child safety plugs,
empty carseats installed in a childless car.
Get a speeding ticket on St. Patrick’s Day 2005,
empty car seat plus ticket equals failure,
weep at the growing list of failures.
Pick up a child in July, freefall: vomit and
unexplained crying, later fits of temper—hers and yours.
Illness 1, Illness 2, Illness 3, 2 surgeries, too many doctors.
Fall out with siblings one by one, in-laws, then own parents.
And then other losses: a job, the second house, a car. Life wedged
tight in a climate control storage unit: the fine china,
a couch on end, the antique Stickley, visit that space sometimes,
suck in its smell of home when the metal overhead swings open.
But still the number 6 bus leaves Wilkes-Barre 8 times each afternoon,
makes stops in Kingston, Luzerne, Shavertown, winds its way through Dallas,
stopping at the nursing home, the local college before depositing you.
Your bus compatriots smell boozy in the afternoon,
wear flip-flops that are too large, fiddle with exact change.
You are day laborers with a single purpose:
You get on, get off, trudge up hills to your final destination,
a collective of walkers. The bus rattles and shakes loose teeth and hair.
You are the long faces, the heavy tattoos, the overstuffed bags, always walking.
You come from people trying to make more out of everything,
added on rooms, walled up porches, cobbled together decorating.
Stripped bare of everything, you fall into a new life.
It takes longer to get anywhere, but if you lean back in this current,
follow its watercourse flowing in and around this valley,
river of stops and starts, you can get anywhere on your own. People
stand on porches, watch you clatter by. You do what you have to do.
Also by Jennifer Judge (see all)
- Creation Myth - March 2, 2023