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ISSUE:  Winter 1992
Bessie’s face lingers before me,
as if to be touched, recalling
her life. She does not yet know
as a child and neither do I, her age.
She is standing at the door
of her parents’ apartment, together
with her mother to see us off,
mother and I, after a visit.

Bessie is eager to do well as a pianist,
her mother standing staunchly at her side.

I see Bessie in her hardware store,
hauling barrels and crates
from off the trucks and swearing
at her invalid husband. She curses her father
to whom she owes this life.
There is no piano, no practising.
She is signing receipts with coarsened,
stiff fingers for goods delivered.

This is better, she will say viciously
to her husband, than to beg money
from her father and be refused.
She has taken on the hardware store
at his retirement to prove to him
she too can make money, lots of it,
at the same work. In spite
she has married a sick man.

Bessie has gone back into the store
to search out her husband
to upbraid him for not at least
overseeing the shipment. He reminds her
of her father keeping his distance,
paying for her piano lessones
but refusing her her clothes,
letting the woman fester in her want.

She has played Chopin for mother and me
and now we stand at the door
to say good night, Bessie
at her mother’s side, as together
mother and I begin to leave,
mother first having praised Bessie,
echoing my pleasure
and as if speaking for me.


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