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A Child’s Panes

Caroline Cottom

You thought—

You were a kid.

and you missed him

but then, what would you think?

Your daddy went away to war,

a kind of missing that had no words.

You must have missed him

when Uncle J.T. drove 200 miles

when you were born, too,

in his beat-up pickup to see you.

Your daddy home on leave

Raggedy Ann, lay down with you

called you baby, bought you

to sleep.

You and Mama following base to base:

Ordered to India

Tennessee, Kansas, California.

Daddy saluted you from his plane.

You called Mama's cross stitches"panes"

because that's how planes

"planes" looked against the sky.

On the farm Mamaw and Pampaw

You loved lying on top of Whitey,,

and splashing in a little plastic pool

Mama and Mamaw rocking

fanning themselves

gathered you in like the corn.

that big mutt, tail wagging,

in the dry-as-cornstalks backyard.

and creaking on the porch,

with paper made of the news.

The war finished; a house in Illinois.

A baby sister you adored

Daddy said anywhere but the South.

but Daddy didn't want.

The story isn't so sweet after that.

Who are you? Who am I?

touching isn't necessarily love,

Rocking, rocking.

Little girl who didn't know why

I swear to you, it wasn't your fault.

At a family reunion when you were ten, his arm around you on the sofa,

Uncle J.T. called you sweetheart, held you close for just a moment.

It was enough.

Texaco Man

Daddy’s footsteps on the stairs shake the house he flips on the bathroom light flushes the toilet hard clicking off the light stops at my door I’m on my stomach turn to see when he reaches the bed plants a wet kiss on my lips.


I want to watch Boston Blackie


I know, Sugar


Daddy strokes my face and hair with an open palm glides over my nightgown my back and thighs along my bare calves inside the gown straying across my back my skin wakes up his hand soft as the chamois he uses on his car brushes my skin warm like the puppy next door I close my eyes as his hand wanders inside my gown you can trust your car to the man who wears the star.


Aftermath

I can tell you what the visitations were like,

but only in the aftermath.


In the moments that my father touched me

I disappeared


my mind circled the moon or hid in the tall grass.

There was a pit that happiness fell into,


dark, unknowable, a blank where sensation

and sorrow should have been,


the cells of my body did not know caress,

did not know what they lacked.


I constructed a barricade between me

and everything I loved—caterpillars,


snow angels, lilies-of-the-valley—

held only my sister close,

held only my breath above the pit,

waiting for happiness to return,


slept on my back so that no one could steal

into my room and snatch me.


Each time he left with another woman,

Mother took to her bed, threw up.


I trembled serving her tea. I didn't know

how to feed Cathy or me.


I hated his wet kisses,

his fingers on my skin.


I hated that he scratched his dandruff,

jangled his keys.


I hated that he had a little viewer of a woman

whose breast was rolled in a wringer washer.


I found the viewer in the basement, asked him,

confused, What is this? Why

would a woman do this?


I was eight. I stared at our wringer. He grinned.

 

Caroline Cottom


Caroline Cottom, Ph.D., is a former faculty member at Vanderbilt University and Watkins School of Art&Design in Nashville, TN, and now teaches writing in community settings and online. Her poetry collection, *Asylum*, was published by Main Street Rag in March 2022. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, and she also serves as an editor for book, essay, and short story writers. In a former life, Caroline led the coalition that brought an end to nuclear test explosions in Nevada, recounted in her memoir, *Love Changes Things, Even in the World of Politics*. Writing about her experiences of sexual abuse as a child has brought grace and clarity to her life. See www.carolinecottom.com.



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