At Times Upon a Time

By Julie Shavin

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I reply it was a storybook childhood no not as in Princess Bride
just money enough for food piano lessons a dog new clothes
a yearly vacation that kind of thing and naturally there were
the few times in the middle of dinner my mother drew a knife
from the drawer in order to end herself but I don’t remember
those well maybe not at all though I do recall the shininess
and little points yes serrations I later learned and my father
with his hands out in a stop stop and and also a more than
usual problem in getting our broccoli down the three of us
wide-eyed in steakus interruptus and the dog sniffing terror
a bit less tantalizing than snippets of scrap cushioning himself
suddenly in a collective unconscious of couch our father still
pleading no please let’s just … there that’s good just smile
and pass the ketchup and it was over until the next time
going smoothly to cleanup with the floor vacuum
and its wicked wonderful sound signifying another meal
successfully ingested and popcorn on the way the machines
so comforting being in the end all under her control
one night bleeding into the next and in the morning the usual
coffee aroma the dark savior awakened from slumber in the
cupboard all night long above the you-know drawer and off
to school with us after the first cup and then on to all the rest
it was quite full that pot so I knew what she was doing as I boarded
the bus and undid my locker chatting away on a storybook day
never thinking what might happen if she jumped suddenly to grab
the phone and spilled the coffee one doesn’t in retrospect think
that far ahead or behind and truth is anything can be part of
anything like the tiny reflections and refractions dancing like
so many gemstones right there in a kitchen in storybook suburbs
where a woman who wants to die lives the same day over and again
for decades as there are rules so she swallows them like bitter beans
and gets on with fixing beds and tossing laundry and now
she lives and thrives and my father relaxed now
his hands clasped as with some cherished book
upon the chest his final chapter gasped long long ago.

Julie Shavin

Author’s Note:

“At Times Upon a Time,” title of which is a take-off on “Once upon a time,” which often begins children’s fairy-tales, is a slam prose-poem, and a true story. A friend asked about my childhood, and I remembered this particular part. My whole childhood didn’t consist of these scenes, but of course they are memorable. My mother was a suburban housewife, with a college degree in Art, and in the 1950’s, if women worked outside the home at all, it was as secretary or nurse. So, enormously frustrated, often angry and depressed, she did her domestic duty as wife and mother.  It has been said that expressing anger is good for health; it has been said that not doing so is also good for the health. My father passed away at age 61; my mother has outlived him by 22 years to date, and each battled cancer. This poem perhaps may not hold up well on the page; it is meant to rely on body language moreso than exemplary word-choice; again, it is a performance piece.