Good morning Poetry aficionados, thanks for joining me here on this blustery fall day. I think we’re beginning to finally see the petticoats of winter and the darkening days are upon us.
Sometimes, my friends, I come across a poem so powerful, so raw, so honest, that it moves me from some deep well inside. It connects me to my humanity and to the visceral pain of life and what it takes to come out the other side still kicking.
Today’s guest Verse is brought to you by Kathryn Balteff.
Kathryn Balteff is a poet, writer, and artist who currently moonlights as a used book, gift, and coffee shop owner, although over the years she’s also worked as an educator, sheep farmer, veterinary technician, and veterinary practice manager. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and an MA in English from Oakland University.
While Kathryn mostly is known for her poetry, she also pens essays, fiction, and killer to-do lists. Drawing inspiration from the landscape, sea, and the cosmos, Kathryn often can be found wandering the rocky trails near her home along the coast of Downeast Maine with her husband and their collie dog, Lady Kate.
Enjoy, share, and if you like it, let her know.
You threw the plate to the floor at her feet.
The damn eggs were overdone, not over-easy, how stupid was she? I listened
while you cursed, threatened, and bullied my mother. Strange how I remember the first time, but never the last.
When I was older, Maybe nine,
Standing over her,
futile, scraggly-legged, human shield while she cowered on the floor
shards of broken gin tumbler around her feet.
You paddled me until I screamed
then made me write part of a Bible verse
1000 times at the desk in the corner of my room
Black-and-white grade school composition book chewed-end yellow Number 2 pencil
King James in childish printing.
“Thou shalt honor thy father. . .Thou shalt honor thy father. . . Thou shalt honor thy father . . .
I was stupid like her and
I did not want to be that girl.
When I was eleven there was a college kid, Noreen, one of your students,
around our house,
She was there so much my little brother named a stray cat after her. I hated that cat.
There was a party near the holidays.
Rock music, too loud laughter, cigarette smoke creeping upstairs under the door of my room where I
was supposed to be sleeping. I snuck down,
three stairs to the first landing, to see.
You in the dark hallway
with Noreen smashed up against the wall.
You were laughing.
She struggled silently against you. She looked up through tears.
She saw me.
Quickly I pushed myself backwards, sliding up the stairs. I crept into my room,
eased the door shut,
pushed my nightstand under the knob. hid in my closet, blanket over my head.
In the morning my mother was trying
to scour away the stench of stale alcohol, cigarettes, and something else I sensed, but did not understand. Because I moved my furniture without your permission, you made me scrub every inch of my room
and the bathroom again
until you decided they were clean enough. I did not want to be that girl.
In high school I ran. I ran.
You bragged of being a track star when you were in school. You would be proud, I thought.
I was good.
For a girl.
But never good enough.
Still, I ran.
The day you finally left us,
I came home from track practice to find my mother ironing your shirts so you could pack them in the backseat of your car.
She was crying,
You were screaming obscenities at her. I shrieked at you to leave her alone. Just. Get. Out.
You pushed me hard to the ground
One leg buckled underneath, my other knee sliced open wide on a rock in the dirt.
Hot blood dripped down my leg onto my turquoise running shoes.
You told me that I got what I deserved
Who did I think I was?
I would learn my place. I ran.
A friend’s mother patched me up.
She never asked what happened.
I didn’t say.
I would not be that girl. I kept running.
Medals of tenacity clinking a rhythm against the varsity letter on my jacket. Years and years now
I have not run.
Still I hear those medals
as they marked each footfall that took me farther.
“I am dying,” your note says.
“You should be a good daughter.” “You should come to me.”
I will never be that girl.
You have been dying four long years since the cancer first arrived in your alcohol-preserved liver. The first year I grieved the what-ifs and could-have-beens,
the if onlys.
I lived sorrow, angst, guilt, anger, and more.
Those gaping, bloody wounds the years had slowed, yet not fully healed,
Ugly infectious mess
seeping out onto my clean, though imperfect skin.
I am my own.
Only what I create.
I can at least thank you for that.
I trim the ragged wounds with a new blade, delicately slicing away rot and neglect.
Pull the edges together,
Stitch neat, tight, hidden rows sealing up leaky vessels.
Add a drop or two of glue for good measure.
Mending well is hard work through so many layers.
I look almost new again. I am this woman.