“Watching The Wizard of Oz, Summer 1988” by Rebecca Lehmann

Rebecca Lehmann


Such was the summer of repetition:
I lived in a purple one-piece swimsuit.
The humid slats of the painted wood floor
stuck like chewed gum to the backs of my thighs,
as I watched Dorothy’s blanched Monopoly house
fall again and again on the Witch of the East.
Bam! The Witch of the West’s kodachrome
fireball exploded, a dusky orange plume
announcing her arrival, as I rewound and replayed
the dubbed video tape each new morning.

This was the summer my father walked out,
then snuck back in through a loose window
at night for several weeks to use the shower,
until, in August, my mother found him,
naked and dripping in the dark bathroom—
the summer after my grandfather
killed himself. Imagine him in the old farm shed,
the used-up garden hose snaked
from the tailpipe of his rusted car
through a crack in the window. Imagine the fumes
swirling around his head, a noxious storm
not unlike a plague of locusts.
Imagine this, two summers after he swung
a hunting gun around the farmhouse
angling for my young aunts,
the County SWAT Team circling
the lilac bushes and clotheslines,
shouting demands through bullhorns.

These were the things I was too young to understand.
While my mother laid in bed upstairs,
I fast-forwarded through the sepia tones of Kansas,
all the rickety despair of the dust bowl.
Dorothy fell into and out of the farm’s pigpen quickly—
I was interested in Oz, and knew exactly
when to press play, just as Dorothy opened
the front door, just after the tornado dropped
the farmhouse, that’s when sepia bled into color,
and the soundtrack switched to a series
of lilting angelic voices climbing up to high E.
I never wanted Dorothy to want to leave Oz.

At the end of the movie, There’s no place like home
clicked three times in her plump mouth,
a suffocating incantation. I didn’t understand
the pull to return to the place you hate,
the ability to look at life and not want to fall in reverse.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2009
Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention

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