Like so many of my poems, this one started with a wee bit of fact and meandered through the junkyard of my imagination.
Quick first draft, written beginning to end (the title was the last bit).
For Rusty Breitbaum
A chipped, cheese-colored plate soaks up the history
at this mouth-shaped spot where it lost its glaze:
cherry pie, chicken broth, salmonella, salt. In this case,
two or three snows: I found it out back, years after you left,
under the stairs where we played. Fiesta, your mom called it.
We would gather the black cherries from the tree between the yards,
pour them into her apron. She would go back inside while we made
our pies of mud, so grainy, so not like the chocolate we wanted.
I never passed through your door.
Rusty, you went to Vacation Bible School with me,
your aproned mother in the rutted yard with mine, waving us off.
We rigged up tin cans and string, my dreamy mother’s idea,
and talked between our kitchen windows. Your voice a buzz,
a boy’s whine. We looked for Godzilla to pound up Maple Avenue.
And then you were gone.
Takoma Park apartments were tucked behind walls, over garages.
You never knew what you’d find behind the doors
of the Queen Annes. Folks came and went as circumstances changed.
My family, the steady working class, stayed timidly in our flat,
never brave enough to buy. Maybe yours got lucky. Rumor was
that you, like the stars, went to California.
Thirty-some years later, up late searching the laptop for things
possibly not worth searching, I found a Russell
with your strange surname, dropped a line: By any chance...?
The reply was from your father. Rusty changed his name
when his mother turned him against me.
This thing called Facebook accounts for the changes of my sex;
we go both ways. Michelle Jackson Jabari. Kelly Greco Woods.
I changed my name to make new kin; you changed yours
to break off. Did you mourn big losses and small? Your father?
Me? Did your mother cry into her apron
for that lost Fiesta dish that became the start
of a poor girl’s hope chest?
I have cabinets of Fiesta now, old and new. I don’t need
to think of childhood when I hold this plate. I haven’t bothered
to repair the broken spot. God knows what’s gotten inside.