Poems by Christine McKee
What's in a Name?
My name is Christine.
Chr-chr-chr...too difficult for toddlers to say
who found Tris an easy substitute.
Add a "t" said too fast and hard ~
a near curse ~ demerits and a teacher saying,
"I know what you meant!"
But add the "ine" and draw it out ~
fine crystal tapped with a knife,
the crack of ice under boots on a January morning --
both syllables with equal force, fairness,
enough for both to share without stinting.
On Shady Lane
In his black-and-white world,
Ward chatted amicably as he helped June to wash
the dinner dishes in their immaculate kitchen.
In my technicolored universe,
my sisters and I rotated jobs each week,
setting and clearing the dinner table
washing the dishes for ten, twelve, fourteen people
drying and putting them away
and joined together to fold laundry.
Mrs. Cleaver, in shirtwaist dress and pearls,
made housekeeping look effortless and
served home-baked cookies
with tall glasses of milk to Wally and the Beav.
On shopping trips to the Rising Sun Avenue A&P
while my father went to the meat counter,
my mother would hold the cellophane wrapped package
of Ann Page cookies, count the number enclosed
and then divide by the number of children,
figuring that we could each get two of the large oatmeal cookies
or three of the small coconut for our school lunches.
The Cleavers never seemed to have money problems
on their grassy, flowered, quarter-acre lot,
a bicycle for each boy, and furniture that matched.
My mother wrote on 5x8 index cards: Date, $ in, $ out, Total,
designated their use: food, electric, gas, telephone, shoes ...
and then folded and taped them to hold the few bills
that would be inserted each week once the
careful, budgetary calculations had been made,
every expenditure a decision and the occasional penny
for candy at the store six-blocks away --
malt balls, maryjanes, caramel swirls --
a cause for celebration.
Mrs. Cleaver made each of the boys' lunches separately,
with enough mayo to cover the whole surface of the bread
even to the edges, added fruit, snacks, and a napkin.
At my house, we placed the full loaf of thin-sliced bread
on the table in rows and columns, like dealing cards,
one slice of baloney on bread in the first, third, and fifth columns
and a slice of bland, American cheese on each of the others.
After a swipe of mustard, we flipped the two halves into a whole,
wrapped them in wax paper, replaced them in the bread bag,
and put them all in the freezer until ready to be grabbed
and inserted into a well-worn, brown paper bag
along with the two-or-three pre-counted, pre-wrapped cookies.
At 211 Pine Street, the Cleavers gathered for dinner each night.
At 205 Shady Lane, the fourteen Carusos did, too.
Life Lesson #1
they gave me instructions
ears bombarded with shouts and jeers,
I was shoved forward,
flailing arms, hands out-stretched,
baby steps and banged-up knees.
rushing frantically forward,
mistakes and missteps,
I still seek the right donkey
on which to pin the tail.
I had trouble learning to read,
the letters clothed in sheepskin
changed their sounds,
left me clueless to their true identities.
for a brain that froze numbers
and then tossed them turvsy-topsy
like snowflakes in a whiteout
that blurred my thinking.
for not knowing which note was higher in pitch
as they floated amid my daydreams
and rested somewhere between
Nancy Drew and Rocky the Squirrel.
for my mousy hair, eyes that bulge,
crooked teeth, nondescript self.
for being another mouth to feed
more laundry to fold,
more cause for worry.
mea maxima culpa.
High School Dance
What were they thinking -
those parents who chaperoned high school dances
held in the basement of the local church -
when they would glide across the floor
looking for couples who were having a too-good time
then tap them on the shoulder and say,
"That's enough of that."
Did they think that, left unattended,
he or she,
might throw the partner to the floor in a fit of passion,
rend the clothes from the prostrate lover,
and, having been driven wild by the thought of sweet hard sex
teach the rest of us a how-to lesson?
Ah, we innocents should have been so lucky.