Tammy’s mother wanted to save me so drove me to church every Sunday.
This was back when I wanted rich white shag like Tammy’s, where
on Sunday afternoons we’d lie on bellies face-to-face, where
I confessed my dream of living on an alp in Switzerland with
my three Saint Bernards that would rescue me should I get lost
while searching for firewood or building a snowman, where
Tammy told me her mother’s no-dog-in-the-house rule. When
Tammy’s mother called us to lunch, we sat across from her
at the fingerprint-free, glass-topped table, the pesticide stench
of nail polish remover mingling with tomato soup and saltines.
After Tammy said grace, I sipped soup and cold milk
and imagined crawling under the table, not to beg
for scraps, but to see everything upside down: the bottoms
of the plastic bowls and cups and her mother’s nearly line-free
palm, that hand splayed, all the people in the steeple flattened
corpses, the tiny bottle already shaken with a click, clickety,
click, click, each inch-long nail already scrubbed of their Sunday
coral, four cotton balls pinched, dense, the color of punched skin.
And while we ate, Tammy’s mother applied cherry-sucker-tongue
red to all ten beds. We left her to blow on a hand turned claw,
and I toted my bowl to the porcelain sink, just like Tammy,
and rinsed it out, just like Tammy, but didn’t mention how someday
I wanted nails after church, didn’t lie on Tammy’s shag rug
that afternoon and whisper about how I wanted my dirty hands,
their abused nails chewed to jagged little lips, to someday be tipped
in a sharp red. Didn’t tell her how badly I wanted to someday
have nails like her mother’s, nails that could scratch eyes out,
nails that could easily drive into some savior’s back.
—from Rattle #28, Winter 2007
Kandie St.Germain: “Ordinarily when writing I’m queen of omission, deletion, and revision through exclusion. But with this poem, the opposite was true. It started with Tammy and her shag carpet. The rest—the truth in the poem—built upon that image. It’s the layer cake of my poems, the parfait, so to speak. Perhaps it’s a sign of middle age, this urge to build up instead of to destroy …” (website)