My mother sits in profile on the photographer’s stool,
one arm draped over crossed knees, the other behind her.
White crinoline and ruffles. Classic pose. Scuffed shoes.
She is taking that single breath between girl and woman.
The ripening plum of her mouth. The start of softness
above the narrow velvet ribbon of her empire waist.
Nights, she listens from her bed to slamming doors,
the late thunder of tires on oyster shells in the drive.
Or her mother rouses her from sleep, commands her
to yell her father’s name from the car, embarrass him―
he and his tart carousing at the open-air bar. She’s
a conscript in her mother’s war. What she longs for―
her father’s love. He’s bound to his pocket flask.
Mornings, she sits at the piano, as her mother requires,
plays scales and études. Duty over desire. I want to break
the glass over the portrait, let her out. I want to tell her:
set the house on fire, let them wonder if you drowned
in the canal, run away to Kathmandu in your scuffed shoes,
Kathy Nelson (Fairview, North Carolina) is the author of two chapbooks―Cattails (Main Street Rag, 2013) and Whose Names Have Slipped Away (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, Broad River Review, and Southern Poetry Review.