Checkup

By Daryl Jones

Featured Art: Woman Bathing by Mary Cassatt, 1890–91

Two weeks they didn’t speak,
my father sleeping on the couch
and rising early, spooning cold cereal
into his mouth like a metronome,
while my mother stood at the stove
in her white nightgown, back turned,
stirring the silence. And all because
the handsome new doctor, I’d gathered
from muffled shouts through the wall,
had asked her, at her annual checkup,
to take off all of her clothes
and she did. Every day at school,
the words chalked on the blackboard
all spelled DIVORCE, and I figured,
homeless, I’d grab my paper route cash
stashed under my socks in the dresser
and thumb my way west
to Frisco, jam out on bop and poetry
like Sal and Dean, eat
chocolate-covered ants and sip
jasmine tea, maybe smoke some Mary Jane.
But who would take care of my dog?
And I thought about my Schwinn
in the carport, the record player crooning
in my room, the model airplanes
dogfighting on fishing line, and also
my poor father, one hand
on the steering wheel, letting me
pilot his prized Ford Galaxie
on the back roads, and my mother
sometimes slipping a strawberry Twizzler
in my lunch for school. And I knew then
it was true, what my mother always added
like a postscript as I cleaned
my plate for the children starving
in Korea, that you don’t appreciate
what you have until you think
you could lose it. And suddenly
and unexpectedly as it all began,
it was over, the two of them
at the breakfast table, blinking
like amnesiacs waking, recovering
speech, becoming themselves again,
only different. And I wonder now
at the shrewd miscalculations
of marriage, and whether my mother,
recounting to my father before bed
the humdrum events of her day,
had let something slip, let it drop
casually, like a bra to the floor,
to see if she’d get his attention.


Daryl Jones, a former Idaho Writer-in-Residence, is the author of Someone Going Home Late, which won the Natalie Ornish Poetry Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His poems have appeared recently in The Gettysburg Review, New Orleans Review, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Vanderbilt Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

Originally appeared in NOR 20.

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