Wednesday, April 08, 2009

NaPoWriMo #7: nicknames

Read Write Poem's prompt for yesterday, "nicknames", caught me off-guard because one of the first things I thought of was a childhood nickname given to me by my uncle. That in turn opened a floodgate of memories about him and how our relationship has changed over the years. I actually wrote the first half of the poem yesterday, but then I had to sleep on it and come back to it today when I had time to really give what I needed to this poem, to dig deep and write.


When I was four five six seven eight
he twirled me till my full skirts belled out
lifted and carried me on his shoulders
called me Gypsy
gave me a ride home from first grade
on the back of his motorcycle
made me wear his scuffed white helmet
while his bare long hair streamed behind
fed me chocolate chips while watching
Saturday morning cartoons at his house.

It was only later I remember
overhearing my mom and aunt
talking about his marriage failing
because of pot coke drinking
beginning to understand words like
codependent and addiction
because they weren’t whispering
or keeping the doors closed anymore
and after I remembered for myself
finding magazines under his coffee table
decks of cards with naked ladies
feeling sick when I looked at them
dirty when I thought of why my heart raced
tasting vomit back in my throat
when I recognized his smell
was the smell of beer.

He took me fishing once when I was a teenager
his small white motorboat breaking over
whitecaps in the Strait of Juan de Fuca
but I didn’t know what to say to him
even when we hooked a cod
gray scaly longer than my arm
flopping dull against fiberglass hull
just listened to him telling me
stories and names of silver inlets
wrapped around emerald headlands
on the way home and all the while
holding back vomit when
I caught his beer-smell on the breeze.

The years since have wasted him and me:
wasted time wasted love wasted life
only recently I’ve resigned my need to deny
that I am more like him than I knew
for we both brawl with our own demons
acquainted with pain, I feel his when I see him
brown bag in hand at a reunion
or when I catch his breath as we hug
I wonder now what beer was the balm for
what first wounded his wild gypsy soul
when he was half the age I am now.

I don’t know how this story ends
only that I’m not Gypsy anymore and
he’s not the same man who named me.


aubrey said...

what a bittersweet history of your relationship with your uncle. i loved this.

Mammy/Grammy Lo/Snookums said...

Katie, this is excellent. Lo