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The Laughter in the Kitchen

Susan Musgrave
From:   Things that Keep and Do Not Change. McClelland & Stewart, 1999

All day my daughter and her best friend
have been playing marriage, destroying
the house to make it the way they need it
to be. They've shoved the loveseat
across the bedroom door to form a barricade,
overturned the armchairs to give themselves
temporary shelters. They've even rolled
the carpet back, "so the carpet won't get
beer spilled on it," my daughter, pretending
to be Dad, explains, when I complain:
the house doesn't feel like my own anymore
but still I have to live in it. "We can
build a new house when I make lots of good
money," my daughter says, butting out
the Popeye candy cigarette she won
from the neighbour boy for showing him
her vagina through a slit in the split
cedar fence. I wept, told her next time,

baby, hold out for a whole pack,
trying to be brave, the way only a mother
could. "We can't build anything if you
keep drinking drugs," the tiny wife bursts
as my daughter keels into the woodstove
and pretends to catch fire, the laughter
in the kitchen filling the house
where we tried to live. What has become

of my young life, the man who once pressed
a fistful of crocuses between my breasts
and made love to me on the kitchen floor
while beyond, on the river,
a loudspeaker-toting paddleboat carried
honeymooners to the mouth. Later we took
the same cruise, pretending to be newlyweds
ourselves, holding hands on the tipping deck
with others who took photographs to prove
they had truly been there, they had
loved each other - once. The laughter

in the kitchen reminds me: grief
is a burden, something to be shaken
like the foxgloves in our garden, stooping
under the weight of their seeds. I've learned
the lessons of pain, now wait for the same
light that makes my daughter's face so
luminous and wise as she says to her small friend,
"Now you be Dad. You've got no body so you can't
get away. I'll be the mother this time."
painted and tightly closed.

Susan Musgrave's works copyright © to the author.

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