original writing: Elizabeth Rising, a work in progressJanuary 10, 2012
This poem came out all in a rush after spending the day with writers who’ve been shepherded by Lise Weil two or three times a year for the last 12 or so years. It came out pretty much as you see it, with my mother’s life pretty much the framework on which it hangs. I was pleased by the images and some of the closure of the lines, but it’s rough, obvious in spots. More to the point, soon after writing it, I saw it as a template for a larger memoir project, something that will involve my learning more about digital literature and collaborating with a code writer and web designer/animator. But I won’t get to that for a while and I thought I’d share this now. Enjoy and stay tuned.
Betty Lou is a baby girl with fat black curls,
a stuffed cat in one fist, floppy inch worm in the other,
chubby arms straining the sleeves of her green velvet coat
as she reaches for the bird
in the sky
of her park.
Now the lady of a house, she keeps her own babies at bay
with librium and valium and
vodka in her iced Sanka.
She escapes the husband
in night shifts at the hotel bar
where, out back, in the parking lot,
she slips in beside a customer,
who notices her gray roots
as she bends into him,
her scuffed green-black money belt
thudding against his shin.
Later she lights a bent cigarette,
and rolls down the window
Now, she’s a number on a bracelet,
green hospital smock
gaping at the back,
cold against the wall beneath a ceiling
buckled and oozing (but not).
An orderly is tugging at her arm
which is a snake that bites
with the cat-scratch current
of the next shock treatment
and animated bluebirds circle her
frizzled grey hair, like in the cartoons
her children might be watching at home
One more vinyl bracelet, one last hospital,
where her silver hair
is combed gently by a stranger
who knows her temperature
and medication schedule
and will wheel the patient
past the waving nurses’ desk
to the gift shop
where the glittering green scarf
brushes the wheelchair like a summons.
“Pay me tomorrow,” the shop volunteer smiles and
Wheeled on to the garden,
Elizabeth struggles to push herself up from the chair,
reaching for the pussy willows
she can no longer name,
But crumples, clutching
the IV pole. The scarf falls like a feather
in the sky
of her park.
Denise Duguay May 29, 2011