Lee Ellen Pottie

it’s a sin

Uncle Charlie said the yacht club
used to rock on Friday and Saturday nights,
Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa, you’d
come home, suit sweat wet from non-stop
swing, competitions won with
the chatty blond dynamo a good foot shorter
than you. Pained by arthritis, you’d crawl
into bed, sleep a few hours before
covering the baseball games and curling
behind the glass for the Herald, ready by eight
to jitterbug into the night.

    My first boyfriend was blond, shorter
    than you. I didn’t have to stretch
    so much, look up when he kissed me. He went
    to war, you know – you never did.

I recognize the backs, the profiles, the little blond
in saddle-shoes, your daddy long-legs, sepia-
toned in the honeymoon photo. Together
you swung in a birch bark clearing
over roots, rotting leaves, lumber
to finish the cottage. No electricity,
no phonograph, the outhouse in the bush:
was the music only in your heads?

    With a better job, we could afford
    our own home, colonial-style furniture,
    no leftovers on Monday, an automatic
    washing machine, a fur coat.

Days before transistors and cordless
CD players, you drummed on pots
from the kitchen, friends played
guitars, fiddles, wax paper over combs.
Kitchen parties moved to the dining
room where the upright stood
against the wall, chairs
and floors filled with family,
friends of all ages, home-made
music so loud my brothers and sister
danced rooms away on hardwood floors.

    You’re always working – can’t
    you spend more time with
    us, less time at work and
    the press club?

When you retired, you took up
cooking – shrimp toast, spring-rolls and red
cooked chicken your specialties – more palatable
than Mom’s rock-hard liver, Sahara-dry roast. You invited
the newsroom team for supper, spent
the whole time in the kitchen while Mom
chatted up. You could have started
a second career.

    You never clean the kitchen
    when you cook – do you think
    I was put here to wipe up
    the mess you create? And turn
    your hearing aid up; I’m
    talking to you. Stop
    ignoring me.

I used to wonder why
you stayed with Mom, so many years
of fights, recriminations, sadness; why
your children didn’t inherit
your strength, resolve, let their marriages
dissolve when fighting became too
intense, too painful. You had the last words:

    “Don’t play sad songs at my wake;
    play only the music we love. It’s a sin
    to love anyone
    as much as I love you.”

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