Editor’s note: In her own words, Patricia Zylius is “an incurable copyeditor, and fortunately, gets paid for it.” In 2012, she published “Dear Sweeties: Tom Cuthbertson on His Dance with Cancer,” by her late ex-husband. Her chapbook, “Once a Vibrant Field” was published in 2013 by Finishing Line Press.
How many times Daddy had bellowed me mute
and cowering as I waited to be spanked.
My sins were so small —
calling Susy stupid, talking back.
So when I sat for the photographer
in my plaid kindergarten dress,
Daddy suggesting angles and poses,
I saw my chance, aimed
my eyes low, and took on
a moody look.
They kept telling me to smile,
but I straightened my back,
ignored their orders.
I kept checking Daddy’s face, watching
as his lips thinned to a hard line,
the red rose up from his neck.
I knew he couldn’t yank the belt
from his pants here in the studio.
Still, I tasted risk, and savored it.
I remember how I used to cook up drama,
my tiny life too tepid for my taste.
When I read Dick and Jane, I turned “Oh, oh, oh!”
into catastrophe, staggering around the room.
I knew the strap, that belt my father wielded.
But that was just the dull pain
that came with any childhood,
not the tragic novel I was green enough
to want to live.
Was I practicing for what I couldn’t know?
Even if life ever gave you that chance,
would I have wanted to see the script?
Fever that laid the baby limp and whimpering
in his crib, the broken marriage,
dementia that wasted first my father’s brain,
then my mother’s.
That moment I stood over
the skeletal face, the bony length
of my children’s father
laid out in his coffin.
I dream of leaving on a one-way trip
in a long black limo with darkened windows,
lounging behind a driver I can’t see.
The decrepit shack of my body is beyond repair.
Pain dents and gouges the walls,
the pipes are corroding. The wiring’s frayed,
the frame is crumbling around me.
What good is it to rage against the ruin?
When I go, I’ll take no bags. Won’t know or care
where we are heading. Won’t look back.
Someone else will have to deal with the wreckage.