Questions for the Poet Who Also Paints
Sylvia Manning
for Albert Huffstickler

Your painting of the woman dressed for town as they once did,
if they could, our countrywomen — certainly never doubting
if they should, for it was a code to dress for town, at least in near best —
(even after I was grown and certainly in her time, all her time) even
before we needed more reference frame for culture, back when culture was
what you got at opera or fancy lectures, if you were rich — then and there,
those kind of women. . .

This woman in some synthetic blue-green, maybe aquamarine, in her
so called costume jewelry and made-up pretty-if-she-weren't-so-plump face
beneath a do of curls she scrimped to afford to have done — to be presentable,
as was said, to make herself presentable

She's not just anybody's mother come to town now turned itself to city undone,
not nice, not a place to do your best to dress for, no.  She's mine.
She breaks my heart.  She makes me wonder if when Mama got to Heaventown
it was after all just a place God let get rundown, interstitial, probably gone
to video stores, second-hand porn, all polystyrene littered.

Your woman with her handbag matching black patent shoes,
hopefully there before winds chilled, as we were not to wear black patent after Labor Day,
holding it with both hands in front of her, clutching primly the little that protected
that place where babies came from, even if none would be coming again from her

With look in her eye as she waits for the Promise, the masculine Divine,
suggesting a subliminal worry behind the best she can do to be pretty
that He'll say, after all, "She's too fat.  I told her that
a million times if I told her once,"
and she'll be sent back, to where she can't even window shop or stop
for a nice cup of coffee, to where between the cleaning and the worrying
she sobs, to where the town kids never go, across the river, across from the mill,

Your woman in her blue green street length three-quarter sleeved dress
And hat (not to forget) there in the decade, one guesses, of the lost dreams, the '70s

Who did you think she might be when she emerged from nothing, having done
her dead level best, as people said, to be presentable, as was always called for,
even if she couldn't help looking very scared and a little too fat?

Did she speak to say why she'd come to town?  Did she ask for me?

First published in Parting Gifts, winter 2001