Listen to a reading of “Minnesota Christmas” by Catherine Gonick.
I don’t remember which cousins invited me
up into the hayloft in their freezing barn.
Jump, they urged, and I flew back down
onto a pile of dusty hay, stood up exhilarated
until I felt the unexpected heat
of blood dropping from my nose.
I remember tiny Great-aunt Cele,
who silently handed me her handkerchief
and inexplicably showed me her chest,
opening her blouse a bit
to reveal a bare plank with
two knotholes where her breasts had been.
Did she know that at twelve,
I was a woman myself?
A month ago, first thinking
the rusty stain I spied
was somehow shit,
I’d quickly figured out:
only lying on the bathroom floor,
naked belly pressing onto tiles,
could chill the brand-new pain of cramps.
She’s very ethereal, I later overheard
Cele tell the family,
and I was, my every airy part
a mystery waiting to spark.
I knew nothing but was ready
for whatever came, a summer
when I’d feel those words
from Peyton Place I’d memorized
burn real, like Betty in short-shorts
when Rodney’s hand “found the V of her crotch.”
Those red-hot words were borrowed from me
on that visit, though not by Cele,
who never wed, lived all her life
on the farm with her married sister,
a cousin told me when we too were old.
She was like a living saint, he said,
worked so hard every day, tried to please
them all and never complained—
except for once in a while a long sigh ending in oh pshaw.
That Christmas, years past surgery,
two years before her end,
her virgin eggs, like mine now, gone,
Cele noticed me, not what I carried.
It was my mother and her sisters,
readers all, who couldn’t resist
sneaking a look at the scandalous,
just-published paperback book
winking from my nightstand.
Each night I found deepening dog-ears
stroked by matronly fingers.
I was the youngest woman there
but the uncontested owner
of that smoldering paper,
just as I owned my blood,
my triple A breasts,
and my new red-wool Italian sweater
from Marshall Field’s, a gift
from my wealthiest aunt.
The entire family, though not my Jewish dad,
might have come to midnight mass,
but I only remember standing up
with the women and wearing
my subtly medieval-style sweater
like a blazon, as we sang with conviction:
Joy to the World!
Listen to a reading of “Assisted Living” by Catherine Gonick.
You’re never too old for romance,
my mother liked to say,
gazing around the big dining room
where the women outnumbered
the men eight to one and
no man had to live alone
a minute longer than he wanted.
There she goes, my mother would say,
and we’d turn to watch former PE teacher
Zorie, still good-looking and juicy
in her nineties, advance sweetly toward
the table of her latest man. The first was
cranky Dan, whose critical remarks
she didn’t mind as long as he kept walking.
She kept him happy as long as she could
and when he died, immediately took up
with Peter, who wasn’t nearly as smart
a guy but a lot nicer. And when he died,
it was burly Frank’s turn. By then she’d
lost most of her short-term memory but
none of her pizazz or the pink flowers
that adorned her walker. And her smile—
was bigger than ever as she wound
her arm around the arm of her man.
Never too old for sex, sniffed my mother,
and I wondered, but Zorie wasn’t telling
and by then, might not even have been
able to remember. Whatever she did,
it kept her lovingly living.
Sex, shmex, we’re on a ship to nowhere, said my father,
and this was undeniably true, yet
the ship was comfortable
and thank the gods of Wall Street paid for
by my parents’ comfortable portfolio.
Here there was nothing more to worry about
except, of course, the big D, nothing more
to earn or do, and I was reminded
of college in the ’60s, when tuition and
drugs were cheap, and sex was complimentary.
The prices of everything went up later,
but for those lucky enough to afford a ship to nowhere,
the best things in life could still be free.
About the author:
Catherine Gonick’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Pivot, Crack the Spine, Ginosko, Amarillo Bay, Sukoon and Soul-Lit. She won the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize for Poetry and was a finalist in the National Ten-Minute Play Contest with the Actors Theatre of Louisville. As part of a startup company that turns organic waste into energy through green technology, she divides her time between New York and California.