The Spoils of Childhood
Neglect and abandonment alternate with a solicitous parent
who gives the only thing his to give—a history of his parenthood.
Sometimes chocolate bars wrapped in foil, taken by the parent
from a hiding place in the kitchen, given as a substitute for parenting.
Always the fear of wrongdoing coupled with a hard spanking—rent
in two by that smack on a bare bottom. Or, whip-punishing parent
who takes the child out in front of siblings and neighbors, intent
on showing what happens to one who transgresses parental
rules. Throw in cotton candy, a lollipop, an elephant, a parent.
Gather threads and laces, cough drops from Bubba, once a parent
herself, now in the role of grandparent, she who lists a little, parents
the child of the child with smiles and laughter. What parent
sets out to ruin her children? How mangle innocence, parent
of the infant: that speechless, vulnerable cheek who seeks to frequent
your kind glances with more of same? To reciprocate, parent,
those moments of heaven fatally wasted on you? O parent,
see what you've done to these many children by parenting
too much, too little, too well, too badly. Ah yes, I am my parents.
We did cartwheels in wet grass,
spun walkovers from front and back.
Our backbends took the sky to grass
and we peered between our feet—
necks lifted like swans on lake grasses.
Thick feathers parted, folded back,
we became angels with halos of glass
who could do no harm to grasses
parted by pas de deux, arabesques,
jetés, pirouettes, and glissades. Grass
stained our whites, we landed flat-
footed, arms spread, proud of the last
lyrical dance, met by applause
in this theater of the round, its grass
floor and incumbent summer. Grass
itched our legs and we scratched
willing flesh, breathed flower-grass,
became grand girls with pasts of grass.
Judith Skillman's recent book is Kafka's Shadow, Deerbrook Editions. Her work has appeared in Cimarron Review, Shenandoah, Zyzzyva, FIELD, and elsewhere. Awards include an Eric Mathieu King Fund grant from the Academy of American Poets. Skillman has done collaborative translations from French, Portuguese, and Macedonian. Visit www.judithskillman.com