“A Must-Have for the Holidays” by Elizabeth Harmon

Elizabeth Harmon


Because I am 23 and not married,
do not have at least one child,
cannot fit my old jeans over my hips,
eat the dessert that’s meant for decoration,
never had the ability to wear
red lipstick with anonymity,
and do not have anyone to share
the season’s fullness with,
I am a failure. (Yes, I know my mother
was barely 21 when she decided to staple down,
don’t remind me.)
I can (and do) wear a turtleneck
to hide my lack of cleavage
and tuck my rounded chin into
the snug cushion of the top,
avoid standing too much so that
couch pillows fold in around me
instead of my lumpiness hanging out,
and make sure not to wear rings
that pudge out my fingers.
And I know that if only
I could throw a plate at my father’s head,
then I could do anything.
If I could haul off half-cocked and cocksure
with yellow, pumpkin-stained,
china blossom plates in my hand
and chuck them against a doorjamb,
then I’d be almost guaranteed that
tomorrow would be a good day,
or at least ordinary enough to stand.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010


Elizabeth Harmon: “Being from a Southern state means being considered an old maid if you’re not married before you’re 22. I’d been one for a little while when this poem was written. It was my reaction to an interestingly typical family Thanksgiving dinner where my childhood chubbiness, previous boyfriend, lack of current potential mates and devotion to work were all discussed. Doesn’t poetry love to invoke the past and future too?”

Rattle Logo