The best part of our trip to Florida
Was the train
It took two and a half days
To travel from Pennsylvania Station to Miami Beach
We had a roomette
With fold down beds and
A tiny bathroom
At night I could lie in my bed
And lift the shade to see
Dark train stations as we passed through
In the daytime I sat on a bench next to my mother
And watched the backs of houses fly by
Laundry hanging on the line
Cotton fields and tobacco sheds mile after mile
Each morning we ate pancakes and sausages
Served by Pullman waiters in crisp uniforms
Who poured coffee for my parents most respectfully
With white gloved hands.
My first husband
Said I smiled too much
So I tried to be cooler.
He thought smiling people were shallow
He had great depth
For years every time I started to smile
I would straighten out my face and turn
The corners of my mouth down
In a gloomy and poetic manner
Which unfortunately never lasted too long
Because I forgot right away.
I seem to have an incurable case of shallow.
If you look at paintings a lot
Which I do
You find so many scenes of fields and
Cities and mountains
Because artists memorialize
Places they have wandered with their easel and palette and
Buyers want souvenirs of where they traveled
So there is a match, from Parisian street
To a spot right above my head although
I have actually never been to Paris
Or on a sailing ship on the ocean
Or in a desert or jungle
I have only been up and down the street
Canvassing for my fancies.
When I was a girl
I never washed a dish
Or did laundry
Never mopped a floor
My mother said
Time enough for that when
You are grown
So I did no chores
And never learned to cook, although
Once my mother let me stand on a chair
By the stove
And drop a potato slice
Into a hot skillet.
And once on the train to Florida
The porter gave me a broom
To sweep the corridor
While the rain spattered against the windows
And we raced south.
Today I played in a pool with other women
For an hour
The water bubbled around us as
We made waves, swam in circles.
We wore bathing suits, all kinds
Flowers and stripes and skirts
Our hair got wet from splashes,
We were little old ladies
Tossing a medicine ball back and forth, we
Jogged through oceans
While the instructor stood on the edge demonstrating
Our next move
And the hollow echos of our happy shouts were loud
Against the concrete walls.
I have a son and
I have a daughter
The lights of my life.
If they needed a heart
And mine was any good
I swear they could have it.
I might smoke cigarettes behind the shed with them
And never tell their secrets
But I think a parent’s death
Is the greatest gift
Especially if you inherit their heart.
Maybe I wasn’t a great mother
When they were little
So the least I can do for them now
That’s something they will never forget.
I have been very lucky
I have never been in
Sometimes a man didn’t love me but
I didn’t love him first
Sometimes I stopped loving a man and it took him
A while longer to get on board
I did however stare at a photo of Jean Paul Belmondo
And later found out he never cared much
That was a heartbreak as these things go.