My Father’s New Woman

By Fleda Brown

Featured Art: Fruit and Flowers by Orsola Maddalena Caccia

My father has a new woman. He’s 93, the old one is worn out.
They used to hold hands and watch TV in his Independent Living
cottage, but now there is the new one, to hold hands. The old
one is in Assisted Living not 50 feet away but barely able
to lift herself to her walker. He sits in her room after dinner,
her mind wandering in and out. What if she escapes
and comes over while my father is “taking a nap”
with this new one? My mother is two miles away beneath
her stone, relieved. I bring artificial flowers to her with my sister,
who likes to do that when we visit. I am not much for
demonstration. I would just stand there and say, oh, mother,
he’s at it again. And she’d say, I am sleeping, don’t bother me
with him anymore. And we’d commune in that way that knows
well enough what we’re not saying. And I’d be lamenting
my self-righteous silence in the past, my smart-aleck-motherjust-
go-to-a-therapist talk. What I should have said was, was,
was, oh, it was like a tower of blocks. Pull one out and all
would fall. She would get a divorce and a job and marry some
balding man like her father, who would be my ersatz father
and would take her dancing and let her wear her hair
the way she wanted, and she would cut it short and get it
permed and life would quiet down and my father, to her, would
morph into the handsome and funny Harvard Man he was
in the old days, the way he posed her for his camera, tilting
her head to the light with his devouring-passion fingertips
and her days would begin to feel like a succession
of pale slates to scribble on and erase before the new husband
came home from work, while my father would spin off
after whoever would “put up with him,” as he says,
and would follow his new one around carrying her groceries
and complaining that she spends too much, but biting his tongue
and thinking how soon she would let him, well, you know,
and I would be, what? The same as now, writing this down
so that none of the shifting and sifting could get away
cleanly without at least this small consequence.

Fleda Brown’s tenth collection of poems, Flying Through a Hole in the Storm, (2021) won the Hollis Summers Prize from Ohio University Press. Earlier poems can be found in The Woods Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems, University of Nebraska poetry series, 2017. Her new memoir, Mortality, with Friends will be out from Wayne State University Press Fall 2021. She is professor emerita at the University of Delaware and was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-07.

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