I Hold My Father's Beer

by Candice Kelsey



Grainy 4x4 photos

like some prop deck of saloon cards

my mother has filed

in a yellowed Polaroid Flashgun #268 box.

Meant for automatic color-pack cameras,

this box contains the cycle of life:

film to camera, exposure to development.

Now a mini-tomb

it catalogues the slideshow

of childhood. Pinafores and matching

tights meet shiny doll babies and mini kitchens.


I slide the snug-fitting lid from my cache,

inhale the scent of 1972,

split-level with two car garage,

shellacked orange linoleum,

golden shag carpet.

I meet variations of myself.

I see more clearly

the woman-my-mother who gathered these pictures,

writing in skate-looped letters

my name, the year.

It is a small alphabet to unscramble

like the life I have now.

Dusty, itchy.


Most shots are of my legs.

Polly Flinders, patent leathers.


I am out of focus, off center, back to the lens.

In one frame I hold my father's beer;

in another, a pack of Salem Lights.

Most images

are presents: Christmas, birthday, Easter

Her photo omphalos,

You grainy womb,

white-washed tomb! You speak her –

don’t ever forget

most important of all

is not the person,

not even the two-and-a-half-year-old girl,

but the package.


The girl is package.

Nothing inside

but the facade swing-door parlor

scripted game of cards.

She’ll be stuffed back into boxes.

I grow more

comfortable in the uncertainty

of being that girl, both container and

contained. In the certainty of


I crave my father’s cool, wet bottle of beer

and imagine the bitter sip

going down


a mother’s expectations.

Candice Kelsey's poems have appeared in such journals as Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, Sibling Rivalry Press, North Dakota Quarterly, Burningword, and Wilderness House -- recently her nonfiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She's also the author of a successful trade paperback parenting guide. An educator of 20 years' standing with her master's degree in literature from LMU, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.

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March 2019

© 2020 by The Esthetic Apostle