The straight iron legs of the kitchen
chair dig into the linoleum, leaving light
gashes from the table to the fridge. I stand
on its unmoored black cushion to reach
into the freezer. Plastic
whiskey bottles with their spouts
cut off, filled with frozen lard rest to one side.
Their mottled white fat begs use, leaking
the smell of loam. I stick my nose in, breathe
deeply, imagining bacon ice cream.
I will lie and say I was ten, twelve, old enough
to be unattended, but then why did I need
the chair to stand on in front of the old stove
with burners so coated in grease splatter
we let them burn clean before each use?
Pancakes were easiest, ham steak, another
chair for the oven whose filament also caught
fire sometimes, giving biscuits a smoky, charbroiled edge.
Wild children, my sister and I nested like rats,
rearranging furniture to fit our games—Crocodiles
in the Carpet (don’t get bitten!) or Table Slide!
My favorite was when we’d pull a chair
up to a closet and hide in the plywood
cubby-hole up top. Even above the piano, we pasted
pictures cut from mom’s magazines, scribbled
our names in crayon, left notes for each other: “Meet
me in Mom’s closet. Urgent! Signed Boo.” I’d run
to Mom and Dad’s bedroom, climb a kitchen chair
to find my sister, whispering so the Indian Marauders
wouldn’t come for our scalps
as Mom, lost, stared glazed-eyed at a point
just above and beyond the TV screen.
When we’d exhausted the closet clubhouses, we’d pull
a chair up to the door between the kitchen and living room,
take turns climbing up to perch, one foot on each knob
on either side and ride the door while the other
pushed. Call it sound construction; by the time
we’d outgrown this, the door was only warped so much
that it couldn’t pull-to completely.
Mom’s china cabinet stood slightly removed
from one wall. The dining room chairs huddled
around a table the polished mahogany
of a coffin, their thin frames curved
like the graceful legs of an insect. Their seats
had collapsed in on themselves, so only one or two
could be balanced upon successfully. After Mom
became sick, Dad never threw anything away.
We thought he was cheap. The house
filled with junk: Mom’s old
clothes, piles of letters and magazines.
The day after Thanksgiving, three years later,
the house burned. Secretly, we were relieved
to not have to face an un-cleanable storehouse
of broken memories, until they threw
out the couch we had jumped on until the springs
broke, the table we used to slide down, the piano
we hid messages in, and all the old chairs
no one could’ve sat in even if they hadn’t
burned. All of it smoke-stained and mildewed, yes,
but also ours. My brother’s wife spent weeks replacing
everything with new, clean, orderly furniture, chairs
you could sit on without fear of falling through
the seat, closets free of scribbles and bowed
shelves, no more clutter, no more spiders or mice
or Indian Marauders: a house we no longer recognized.
—CL Bledsoe, Glencoe, MD