Queen Arlene

I’m watching Lucy bite into a wax apple,

her jaw clenches shut and her eyes bulge

when she realizes it’s stuck

I can almost hear my grandma’s siren laugh

pierce through the cackling audience


I can see her sprawling toothy grin

pinch her cheeks tight beneath bouncing red curls

Her shirt is still caked with flour and

she pecks like a chicken at the scraps on the stove.


She hasn’t had a hot meal since she was a childless nurse

She’s too busy pacing and darting and stirring and sweating

She’s quick to tell her husband to get out of the kitchen

and even quicker to steal the punchline


She doesn’t talk much, but I follow her

around like a curious bee, trying to keep up

with her buzzing spirit


One day I’m watching her wipe the sink

when she asks what kind of cake I want for my birthday

I show her a picture I saw in a Barbie catalog,

the cake hugs Barbie’s tiny frame

in the shape of an elegant ballgown

She tells me she doesn’t know the recipe


Suddenly I’m nine and

she calls me to the kitchen for breakfast

Barbie is centerstage on the counter

with a flowing white gown made

of marbled cake and cream cheese frosting.

Her plastic arms dangle delicately over

a pink ribbon hem and she smiles at me

as if I’m invited to the ball.

My grandma’s face is downturned as she flips the pancakes,

trying to conceal a giddy grin.


If she would look up, she would see my eyes

are no longer fixed on the cake,

but on the nurse who healed an aching heart

with some frosting and a ribbon


I am the princess of a broken home

but she is my homecoming queen











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