Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kathleen Ossip - My 20th Century

Kathleen Ossip
My 20th Century

We are having tea and
dobosh torte, my mother
and I, dressed in hobble
skirts and buttoned boots,
in Peacock Alley of the
old Waldorf. (She thrives on
luxury.) Hey Ma, I say,
this Sigmund Freud says neuroses
arise from repressed sexual
fantasies! She clatters her cup
in a kind of trance.

We’re having tea and Ritz
crackers, my mother and I,
dressed in chemises, shingled and
bobbed, in the sitting room
of my first apartment. (She’s
a little jealous.) Hey,
Ma, I say, Susan Anthony
won! We’re getting the vote!
She moves like a brown
bird on a brown branch.

We’re having tea—the sugar
is rationed—my mother and
I, wearing trousers and snoods,
in a soldier’s canteen. (I’m
her supervisor.) Hey, Ma, I
say, have you seen that
movie about Scarlett O’Hara, the
heroine who proves, once and
for all, that a woman
can be hard as nails
yet loved by millions? She
hefts a widget, not too friendly.

We’re having drinks in the
Sputnik Lounge, in daydresses and
ballerina slippers. (She’s dating a
pilot.) Hey, Ma, I say,
y’know Rock Hudson, that
actor you like? Well, I just
read in Tittle-Tattle . . . She
hits a high note like
a wigged castrato.

We’re taking spoonfuls of blue-
green algae in the solarium
of the nursing home (I’m
getting tired; her joints are
sprightly). We’re dressed in
leopardskin aerobicwear. Hey,
Ma, I say, there’s this
guy who says all religions
derive from a shared mythology.
What do you think? She
swivels and rides
away on her trike.

I’m eating bread and water
alone, naked as the day
I was born. Hey, Ma,
I say, though she’s not
around, you won’t believe this.
Physicists say that in
addition to a yes and a
no, the universe contains a maybe.
Off in the distance, under the stars,
she moves like a platypus,
neither here nor there.


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