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Poem: "Strange Gratitudes" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Strange Gratitudes"
This poem was inspired by a prompt from siege.  It also fills the "day-in-the-life" in my 8-13-13 card for the Ladiesbingo fest.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses. So far sponsors include: lb_lee, technoshaman, Anonymous as a gift for lb_lee

206 lines, Buy It Now = $103
Amount donated = $71
Verses posted = 42 of 62

Amount remaining to fund fully = $32
Amount needed to fund next verse = $3
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1.50

"Strange Gratitudes"


I can't help thinking
how hard it will be
to go home for Thanksgiving --
the first time for all of us,
and everyone expecting
Maisie instead.

Campus is quiet around me
so very early in the gray almost-morning.
Nobody is watching, and I
give thanks for small favors.

I stare at the door of our house
with its grapevine wreath
covered in colorful autumn leaves,
then close it quietly behind me.


I come out because we're taking a trip
and that requires organization.

The suitcase feels heavy in my hand,
even though it's just a change of holiday clothes
and enough toiletries for the day trip,
but I have the little folder of plans and papers,
everything neatly printed out and ready to go.

It goes smoothly for a change,
countryside flowing past
like rippling river water.

It's easier, now, to focus on
keeping things in order
when I have myself to myself and
I wonder how Maisie ever managed.

I'm grateful even for the chorus
of backseat drivers in my mind;
Clement is a white-knuckle passenger
but Ham is confident and Mira sees everything.

Then I arrive and the house looks familiar
but the first thing Mother does is exclaim,
"Maisie, darling, it's so good to see you again!" --

and I can't help flinching away.


The trip is a blur in my mind,
but all I can focus on is Mother's face
falling like a curtain over her feelings.

"I'm fine, it's good to see you too,
I'm just a little tired from the trip,"
I say hastily, and she buys it,
because that's easier than the alternatives.

The suitcase looks heavier than ever,
and I'm just glad that Maisie's old bedroom
is actually the spare room on the first floor.


I pick up the damn suitcase
and head for what was Maisie's room,
hoping to get away from the hustle and bump
of people gathering in the family room.

Instead I find my younger brother Russell
furtively pawing through the video games
in search of the martial arts ones
that Mother doesn't like him playing.

"Hey! Get out of there, you little brat!"
I snap, picking him up under one arm.

Russell squawks in surprise,
and only then do I remember
that Maisie never openly confronted him
about going through her things,
preferring subterfuge instead.

"When did you get so strong?"
he whispers.

I set him down outside the door.
"College changes people," I say.
"I've been taking martial arts."
Then I rake my knuckles through
the rumple of red curls on his head.
"Go away and let me unpack."

I close the door behind him,
grateful for the barrier.


My sister's voice brings me forward,
Anna knocking on the door and saying,
"Are you planning to stay in there all day?
Lynn is here and she wants to see you."

It's been too long since I've seen them,
my older sister who taught me programming
and our favorite cousin who ran off
with another girl in college,
so I slip out of my refuge.

It's Lynn who brings the smile to my face, though,
waggling her left hand with its new ring.
"We're going legal," she says. "Kim proposed.
Want to come talk about wedding plans?"

How could I not?
I thank her for the offer,
happy that it's an option for them now,
that in one small way the world is getting better.


I hover in the kitchen,
knowing what's coming,
just not knowing when or how.

It's almost a family tradition,
because Aunt Dolores is so accident-prone
and she refuses to sit out of the cooking.

This time I'm determined to catch it
before it turns into
a trip to the emergency room.

I manage to keep her
from taking a turn at chopping vegetables.
I make sure somebody else
scalds and peels the tomatoes.
I sharpen the carving knife myself.

While I'm doing the knife,
Aunt Dolores backs into the hot stove.

I set aside the knife
and just get there in time
to keep her from rubbing butter
over the blisters on her elbow.

I hustle her into the bathroom,
check to make sure the blisters aren't serious,
clean the burn and coat it with aloe gel,
then wrap it for protection.

"You've sure gotten bossy, girl,"
she says to me,

and I'm not a girl dammit

but I can't say that to her,
so I just leave,
grateful that she can't
tell the difference between me and Maze.


"I'm a student responder at college,"
I say. "We're trained to be confident
in the face of emergencies."

"This isn't an emergency, Maisie,
it's just my life," Aunt Dolores says with a sigh.

"I know how that goes," I say,
and she gives me a sharp look.

It's hard and getting harder
for me to pretend to be Maisie,
every pronunciation of her name
like a fresh bruise on my tender spirit

but I give thanks that
I can protect my headmates
from this part of the stress.
It's what I do.


It's Kim who pulls me out
of Maze's reverie and declares
that it's time to set the table.

I like her as a sister-in-law to be
and I'm looking forward to the wedding.

The food is good,
but the table is crowded
and everyone is talking all the time.

It makes me nervous
to be around so many people,
always afraid of being seen,
of being found out,
and they can't know
about us, not ever.

I try to keep my mind on the conversation
between Lynn and Kim, with Anna beside me
chipping in bits of wedding advice.

I try, but there are over a dozen other people
crammed into the dining room
and that's with the little kids
at their own table in the family room.

Everyone wants a piece of me,
wants to know how college is going,
and I do my best to answer the questions
without raising suspicions

but then Uncle Edgar --
who's had three glasses of wine
with his dinner already --

asks how I'm doing
after the kidnapping
and I just can't anymore.

I withdraw into myself,
bitterly glad that Aunt Dolores
is already ripping him a new one.


It hurts so much,
as if my insides have turned to glass
and shattered into a million pieces.

I hide in the bathroom,
and it's a good thing too,
because there are spatters of power
spilling off me like a string of holiday lights,
Mira's gift gone wild.

I concentrate on helping Mira
burrow into the back of our mind
so that I can channel the pain
somewhere more productive,
but there's just so much of it.

It takes a long time for me
to pack away all that energy,
but I get it done anyway.

By then I've lost my appetite,
so I just retreat to the bedroom,

grateful that emotional wounds
don't leave a blood trail for anyone to follow.


I can tell from the sounds
when supper is over
and it's possible to make our escape.

I murmur excuses about
schedules and assignments

and I have never been so thankful in my life
that this is just a day trip.


I drag myself up the sidewalk,
exhausted inside and out,
suitcase scraping the pavement beside me.

There on the door,
fastened to the festive autumn wreath,
is a note that says,

Mine sucked too.

Is it evil of me
to feel so much gratitude
that I'm not alone,
even if I don't know who it's from?

* * *


There are tips for surviving family Thanksgiving, especially for college students.

For any holiday, it helps to be prepared for emotional and physical first aid. Minor burns are common in a busy kitchen.  Keep an eye on accident-prone children and adults.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: busy busy

6 comments or Leave a comment
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: December 7th, 2013 06:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay! I'm so glad this thing got fully funded, and can definitely sympathize on the silences and hiding on holidays. Poor Damask.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 7th, 2013 06:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Yay! I'm so glad this thing got fully funded, <<

There are two new Damask poems coming, just got sponsored tonight, pending my ability to get them posted.

>> and can definitely sympathize on the silences and hiding on holidays. Poor Damask. <<

Alas, holidays can be a hardship for anyone if their relatives are dysfunctional or semi-functional. Adding the aftermath of assorted trauma and new intrapersonal challenges just makes it harder. Damask needs all the cuddles.
natf From: natf Date: December 8th, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Confused about why a suitcase with a change of clothes for a day trip…

I have never been so thankful in my life
that this is just a day trip.

Loved this otherwise!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 8th, 2013 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


Some people travel light, while others like to be prepared.

* Dressy outfit for supper so you don't have to wear it on the road.
* Backup everyday outfit in case of spills, or circumstances turning a daytrip into an overnight.
* Books and other entertainment.
* Toiletries and miscellaneous.
cflute From: cflute Date: September 24th, 2016 04:02 am (UTC) (Link)
>> Is it evil of me
to feel so much gratitude
that I'm not alone,
even if I don't know who it's from?<<

Oh, honey, it's not evil at all! It's very sane, really.

/me offers hugs to whichever memebers of the Damask system are willing to accept them.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: September 24th, 2016 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)


>> Is it evil of me
to feel so much gratitude
that I'm not alone,
even if I don't know who it's from?<<

Oh, honey, it's not evil at all! It's very sane, really.<<


>> /me offers hugs to whichever memebers of the Damask system are willing to accept them. <<

Clement, Keane, and Maze pile onto while Ham, Mira, and Clarity hang back being glad they have someone else to meet the body's touchie-feelie needs. :D Yay, teamwork!
6 comments or Leave a comment