In the Year 2034
(Duluth, Georgia, June 2009)
The family pictures hang underneath
an ornate carved wooden cross:
her mother, the war bride,
her grandfather’s ninetieth,
children wailing on Santa Claus’ knee.
And there, underneath her own baby snaps,
next to the dried flower wreath
and the antique prints
Hangs the slightly retouched
picture of my mother, circa 1968,
a college girl in a sweater set
with a big blonde bubble flip,
her natural brunette bleached and teased
six inches off the top of her head.
She sits on her lavender chaise longue
in her peignoir as I brush her hair.
“I want to make it look like yours,” she’d said,
and I’d said, “I’ll try,” although I’d never
fixed another girl’s hair and was shocked
to be asked as we all know I didn’t get
the good hair. None of us did.
She’s told us this many times before
with a heavy, disappointed maternal sigh.
As I fumble with picks and brushes
and spray, her thinning, brittle hair breaks
under my fingers. We try to ignore
the hair on the floor.
In the upper drawer of her oak bureau
the switches and falls of yellow acrylic wigs
lie coiled next to the case of old hard plastic curlers
and the antique bonnet dryer with the sci-fi hose.
She showed us girls once how to get
the true bubble flip. First, you don’t wash your hair,
the longer the better, the best is seven days out.
Then backcomb, and tease, spray, and repeat,
shape the bangs into waves and then flip up the ends.
Then, of course, there’s the bleach.
These walls are lined with family snaps
and Olan Mills portraits of nieces, nephews,
Sisters-in-law, cousins, the blonde ones
in front. Blonde ones in playsuits, in sandpits,
small blonde children posed in groups,
with favorite toys, with backdrops, with lighting effects.
“I read the other day,” she says dreamily,
“I read that by the year 2034 there won’t be any more
blonde, blue-eyed babies left in the world.”
“Why not?” “The genes. The genes will be
crowded out,” she says. “Crowded out? By what?”
“By brown. Brown eyes, brown hair, brown skin.”
“Well,” I say. “Can’t brown be pretty too?” I think
of my own brown hair, dyed red, tell the truth.
“But it’s not blonde,” she says, flipping the pages
of her fashion magazine, lingering over the shots
of blonde starlets at premieres, blondes in publicity stills,
smiling blonde women with their long-haired blonde broods,
And I tease and I tease, I work with my spray
trying to coax the thinning dyed strands
into the rough outline of the blonde college girl
there on the wall, the one in the golden frame.
what you taught me—
that this sex
I’d dragged around
all these years
like six inches of yellowing slip
could wear like silk,
Beekeeping for Beginners
I thought I might try it, too.
It was the glamour of it all,
the image, my cottage in
the country somewhere,
my very own roses over
my very own door. Never mind
that I knew nothing but
my own wants–the rest would
come with reading, with the very
wanting of it all. Mistakes were made.
I skimped. Paid too much attention
to the pretty little hive, not enough
to what lies within. I got my swarm hooked
on antibiotics. They got depressed, and
that was even before the beetle larvae
and the American foulbrood. My queen
was not gentle. She was not calm. I let her go
one afternoon when the thrum thrum of their buzz
got to sounding too much like the ringing
in my own ears. I let them fly free and planted flowers.
The wild kind, the tame kind, all the kinds.
A lot of them died, too, just like my bees.
I’m not much of a gardener, either. But.
Perhaps someday they will remember me.
How I tried so hard for them.