She worked her way into it every morning
between squinting drags on a first Winston
as though its smoke could supply the strength
to yank the thing that last inch.
The girdle was yellowed, was it not cloth?
And in retrospect, aspects of bondage
presented themselves - dangling straps
mid-thigh waiting to secure the hose,
she's sink-washed the night before,
now held up, inspected
for runs she sometimes missed,
but I caught.
From there it was over the head with her slip,
a lean to the mirror—
rouge, lipstick, blot, lipstick, blot, powder—
before here it came, what I'd waited for,
the eyelash-curler thingy placed
onto each eye then squeezed.
All this to look nice for "the girls"
in her Southern Bell office,
each girl behind a massive
full-metal Burroughs "adding machine"
it took two men to move.
The girls and my mother pushed buttons all day,
numbers appearing in little windows,
numbers they entered into ledgers.
And in this way our family was fed.
When You Find Out Kristin's a Widow
It comes in an early Saturday morning e-mail— Hey, the subject line. I know this is crazylast minute, but wanted you to know Craig's service is this afternoon.
Yes, of course. The iron, the spray-starch, the stone
chapel filled, his stepsister at the mic remembering
the last time they'd hung out, a front-porch music fest,
mostly bluegrass bands, but they had come across
a string quartet in full formal black sawing away at
Vivaldi's Winter, those last frenzied strokes, as always,
transporting. "Winter," she starts again, but her throat
is clenching, and when no one brings her water
that's it, you're slipping out a side door, walking
to a remembered bar, further than you thought,
a blister rising off your right heel from this ill-considered
hike in funeral shoes and thin socks, the place
blessedly dark, your whiskey prompt, on a napkin,
thought given to a few drops for the now-burst blister,
but no, these spirits are consecrated to the purpose
of bringing the chest-burn that lets your story spool out
to the other patrons, three men who'd been doing fine until
you rolled in with news from the land of death, news
you cite as reason for day-drinking as though any were needed,
as though they, by comparison, are louts, a sin for which
there's but one atonement—to pick up their tab.
Rupert Fike has appeared The Flannery O'Connor Review, The Southern Poetry Review, The Sun, and others. In 2018, Hello the House (Snake Nation Press) was listed as one of the "Books All Georgians Should Read" by The Georgia Center for the Book.