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.
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.
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.
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
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.