After retiring from 22 years at Ripon College, I have moved to the Berkshires with my husband and two spaniels. While I miss my students, colleagues, prairie walks, and skies filled with sandhill cranes, I am nourished by the beauty of the mountains every time I walk up the road or take a drive. Co-editor (with David Graham) of After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography (Graywolf), my most recent publications include Cooking With The Muse (Tupelo), SoFloPoJo, One, and Crab Orchard Review.
If The End Of Summer Is A Black Dress
Weightless as a Matisse cut-out in her
king size bed, drugged and dreaming,
if she caught me she'd scream holy hell,
but I pack my suitcase like a perpetually
uninvited guest in her quiet cancer house
that hoards her cells like her possessions
in private, closets stuffed. Over time, I've
taken scarves, blouses, handbags, without
permission, and now this black dress with its
teardrop waist and clean hemline that flares
out in arabesque just below the knees.
My heart quick as her hands that stole
silver spoons and towels from hotels,
I yank it unworn for decades, off a hanger
hidden between winter coats I’ll inherit, slip it on,
comforted by the drape and fit, the imprint of her
wearing it, even the puffy shoulder pads I can always
snip like two misplaced bra fillers, then lay it over
my August clothes the way she’d shown me
one summer after she'd thrown a fit and shook
my duffle upside down, the partially folded piles
falling to the floor. A mere teen off to camp,
what did I know about the trick of long layers?
What did I care about wrinkles I might wear out
into the dusty mountainous world of Colorado?
Enraged, she repacked every item so my tee shirts
and jeans would be good as pressed after travel.
Now at midlife it makes a sort of perverse sense,
her hideous indecorous attempt to teach her
child to be fully prepared. My insides still
topsy-turvy I try to please her behind her
back, sleeves smoothed diagonally, folded
over one another, warm. If the end of
summer is a black dress, let it be this one
whose departure is only slightly delayed,
peaceful between the layers, ready for flight.
© 2018 Kate Sontag
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