The Last Time with Sue

Maybe she was thirteen
when her mother died
as cocooned winter
turned to butterfly spring
maybe I was eight

This was long ago
possibly much longer
than your lifetime

You can’t go back
and ask a dead girl

Her mother must have held on for spring
if only not to die
with howling winds
around the corners of their little house

their tiny house

Her mother hadn’t prepared her
(who or what could?)
not even the slowness of cancer
could do that
There was no man set in place
no money
never was
though she worked hard, her mother

no father
no father-substitute
no alter-mother

waiting to emerge
as in the fairy tales

just a very old grandmother
from the old country
with dementia
recently placed
in a nursing home
who had talked to ghosts
when she lived with them

we would hear her talk to herself
in that overseas language
the grandmother
she would sit alone
out back, on the metal porch swing
painted white, in her shawl
back and forth, back and forth
oh that rusty sound

we laughed at jibber-jabber
of foreign tongue
her sing-song
loneliness to herself
we were kids

maybe Sue loved her
but maybe not
the woman couldn’t explain
herself to anyone
she was old and short and fat
and wore a white shawl
that might have been her mother’s

she looked ancient
and used a painted fan
covered with roses
from another century
though they had air conditioning

I think it drove Sue mad

back and forth
the old woman, the baba
she had conversations
with no one there

she never learned English
and surely died that way

no one to speak with

think of it now, this moment
please

but we were kids
we thought it was funny
now I see how terrible

an orphan suddenly
Sue had no close relatives
or none that wanted her
none that would come out of the woodwork
she had always been a strange girl
few friends and haunted
the abandoned places

(read between the lines,
know a man did this)

She took me more as her dream child
than her friend
five years younger
But I could be in awe
of any witchy child
and she was born to captivate
her long black hair
freckles that deviled her beauty

The strange dollhouses she would build
from absolutely nothing
other people’s trash
and call them haunted
a little tin can cut into an elevator
that actually went up and down

just pull this piece of string

I would see the ghosts she would point out
in the small, individual rooms
I believed the stories
of how they each came
to be a haunting not a person

She would run off anywhere
but always by herself
while strangers settled the estate
horrible strangers went in and out
and through their small house
making mental calculations
the small house
where she held private puppet shows
just for me
no longer anyone’s

There was only debt left
debt and no one
on this earth

The small house was nothing
It was everything
nest and safety
to a girl who mostly didn’t talk in school
who was treated as anathema
a girl on whom people used
a certain sort of cold “hello”
that acted as a long stick
sharpened at the end

all parents had marked her as enemy
of the ridiculous virtuous monsters
their children who were mostly drug addicts
who were picking on her
because she liked vampires
because she sang in empty fields
because would swing by herself for hours
in a playground overgrown with yellow grass
on grounds of a closed-down orphanage

Some of her distant and cold blood
farm people
were brought in as a last resort
She could, she would need to go there
The dog could even come
the scroungy dog she loved
with whom she would get into
ridiculous barking matches
The dog
Rebel

The dog could come to live on the farm
but outside
in all weathers
You know farm people

all through the winter
in a snowstorm
she could watch him from a farmhouse window
and think about how people
really are

I remember she had her mother’s pocketbook
over her shoulder that spring day
She was walking the great distance to the mall
she hadn’t been allowed
except now there was a death
the great distance to the world
where we were forbidden to go
except by car

People are often made horribly free
by death like this
They must do something

She had her dead mother’s purse in there
the woman’s pocketbook slung over
a young girl’s shoulder
and I tried to follow her
she had become so distant now
and I tried
so much smaller, dogging her footsteps
and she warned, “No!”
but I continued, kept stepping on her shadow

When she reached the next corner
the major one
we were never to cross
she was monstrous, her eyes a fury
she turned full around and pushed me hard, down
onto the pavement

where I cried
a small boy

and then turned back

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