Noxzema by A. P. Davidson
American Standard by David Baratier
Confirmation by Jennifer Lagier
Ancestral Bed by Barbara Wesiberg
In a New York Bank by Robert Cooperman
Hubba Hubba Big Boy by Al Masarik
By A. P. Davidson
I remember the creamy ritual--
pearliness caking in a blue jar
on a countertop dusty with talcum.
My mother in a half slip and naked lips,
enlightened by a 100-watt mirror.
A wet cloth draped her hand
like a clumsy glove. She washed her
face and leaned on the sink, water running
down her nose and spotting
her bra with tears.
Two fingers raked the surface
ruining the new-snow smoothness.
She served each eye a dime-sized
portion and circled and circled
until the Noxzema lard was as brown
her fingers working long after the eyes
were stripped. Through this moist dark
she reached for a tissue and scraped
to surface her unhighlighted self,
the smeared and ozzing crumple
whispering in the trash.
Each night weas like this, her eyes winking
from the trash of Q-Tips and boxy tampon applicators,
tissue wads unfolding with her words.
As she dabbed my nose with grown-up cream
I wondered if one day my own face would chatter
from the trash, if I would become a ghost
to torment some other girl,
tell her the truth about mascara.
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By David Baratier
It's the kind of place where
everyone's mother works there.
They fly a clean flag
each morning. So damned incestual,
I don't want to know what drugs she's taking
or some new growth located where. Top it off
with a daughter sitting to my left
who's a single mother with five kids under ten
jittered out on 14 hours straight-time, telling me
she's working extra for a gun to change her ex-
husband's mind about alimony. Makes
me nervous. The only way to get away from it all
is the men's bathroom, and they took me aside
about that yesterday.
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By Jennifer Lagier
Ironically, it's a nun who
orders mother to purchase
my first pair of high heels,
nylons, the superfluous bra,
rubber straight-jacket girdle.
She tells me the vulnerable priest
needs these reminders to adorn
my pudgy, twelve-year-old body
so he won't succumb
to overwhelming desire.
I stare at sister's drab habit,
imagine life beneath black cloth,
visualize her spartan cell,
untouched breasts, utilitarian panties.
I sit, listen in confusion,
ponder threats of hell
and her Catholic warnings.
Mother gleefully chooses
my size 15 tent dress:
two tones of heifer plaid
with immense rhinestone buttons.
I redden, sweat toward adulthood
within tight elastic.
When my turn comes to be confirmed,
I stumble forward on command,
down the church aisle
dividing our class
into isolate genders.
Trembling and filled with a devout sense of faith,
I kneel, receive a slap
in the face
from a man wearing skirts.
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By Barbara Weisberg
I was given the family bed--soft polished cherry wood,
two carved headboard arches, four posters,
and a mattress so high I had to use steps
to reach the warm, downy cavern.
This was my great-grandparents' bed
where they'd slept, together, for fifty years,
where my grandfather was born,
and my great-aunts died,
inseparable spinsters, an hour apart.
My parents' bed too, where my mother slept
in transparent gowns until father got sick
with his "bad heart"--then they gave it to me.
A special gift. Did they think I was deaf?
I'd listened through walls to them in their bed.
Even my night light didn't help.
The mountain was haunted--I new that!--
and slick with bodies wet from--what?
I woke up at night drenched in my pee,
got up and stood in the hall until dawn,
then curled up naked beside the stains.
Bedwetter! From then on, cold rubber sheets.
I never rested. I never told dreams.
Seven years old, in the family mausoleum.
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In a New York Bank
By Robert Cooperman
She stands in line, grumbling,
an old woman little children
would take for a witch.
When she strides to the front,
we gasp, Miss Manners scolding
a breach of etiquette wide
as a shelled farmhouse wall
during World War I.
"I need the bathroom,"
her stage whisper.
"I'm sorry, we have none,"
the teller wrinkles
her nose at this lack
of military discipline.
"I really need to go,"
her demand summons the manager.
"We have no public facilities,"
he states, as if that's that.
"Where do your workers go?"
she demands, a few of us
nod assent, bladders beating
a tattoo of sympathy.
"This is a private institution!"
"You cater to the public!"
she won't budge, not even
when the guard approaches,
a hand on his revolver.
As she starts to squat,
the manager slaps his sides,
leads her to what must be
the porcelain sanctuary
I can only dream of,
with none of her chutzpah.
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Hubba Hubba Big Boy (excerpt)
By Al Masarik
We lived in my grandmother's house then, and she worked days as a janitor at Wilmington High School. I don't know why I call the house hers, since it was my grandfather's too. But he seemed more like a visitor, a strange guest. He disappeared for long stretches into his room, where he got drunk and read mysteries. He worked for the railroad when he wasn't in his room.
My cousin Roweena came to stay with us after her mother got killed in a car wreck on the Fourth of July. A drunken sailor ran into her, and suddenly we had Roweena living upstairs in what we called the sun room. At the time she must have been eighteen or nineteen, maybe twenty; she was done with high school anyway. Everyone treated her like royalty, probably because her mother had just died. But there was something else, too. Roweena was beautiful and everyone we knew was just ordinary. When my grandfather actually ate at the dinner table with us, he dressed up and acted like Roweena was his date; he acted like they were in a fancy restaurant in a movie, or on TV, New York City maybe, anywhere but Wilmington, Delaware in our dining room. My mother and grandmother always laughed at him in his shiny suit and fat tie. I didn't know what to make of it. I heard my grandmother whisper to the neighbor woman more than once, Damn fool's in love with her. Well, everyone was in love with Roweena. Sometimes when they'd joke about my grandad and her, they'd call her Earl's crush. He would get embarassed and look kind of sheepish and hurt, be real quiet at the table. Roweena would put one hand over her heart, and she would leave it there long enough to get my granddad's attention. Then she'd say I'm sorry, Earl, but my heart is already spoken for. And she'd put her other arm around me and pull me to her. I loved it. We sat so close together at the table I could feel her leg against me, and whenever she'd hug me like that I wanted to crawl up into her lap like some chihuahua or something. Everyone was obvious about their love for Roweena, and I was probably the worst. I'd get a tickling feeling between my legs when she touched me, sometimes even when she just smiled at me. I was always having to go to the bathroom, couldn't make it through dinner. My mother and grandmother were tired from working, and I think more tired of me peeing on the floor. So Roweena would volunteer to help me with my aim.
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