A Paper Existence, 1957-1960
Like flowers in the attic,
the four, Dollangangers—
Christopher, the doctor,
Cathy, the dancer,
and the twins,
Cory and Carrie—
wither like blooms over their own graves,
like petals long forgotten after a wedding,
like flowers pressed into a book.
To them, hope was colored yellow,
like the sun they seldom saw,
like the daffodils that grew in their backyard
in Gladstone, Pennsylvania,
like their mother’s hair that fell around her face
as she kissed them good-night.
It is in the wee hours of a morning
on an indeterminate date,
they are whisked away to Foxworth Hall,
where “The Grandmother” lives.
It is the goodliest of good golly days,
that Cathy imagines milk and cookies,
of a kitchen that smell of cinnamon,
and a parlor that smells of potpourri,
of knitting needles and kitten paws,
of shawls over rocking chairs.
Oh, but the mansion appears haggard
in the moonlight,
its windows blacked,
like eyes without a soul.
Years later, Cathy will wonder
if the bus driver,
whose name they never knew,
whose face they cannot remember,
remembers the four, golden-haired children
who rode his bus that night.
She will wonder if anyone who had
memories of her father,
ever wonders what became of the Dresden dolls.
Their mother Corrine, like Christopher,
is whipped for the sins of their father—
sins she shared in the marriage bed—
and they, these beautiful children,
are the spawn of that sin.
By Grandmother Olivia’s hand,
the sins of her daughter
is being passed on the second generation.
Locked away in an upstairs room,
they explore their small world,
and find the attic—
like a dusty, forgotten heaven—
turning it into a paper Garden of Eden.
The grandmother is like the snake who
tempting them by telling them of the sins
they must be committing.
It is the lie that will become a truth.
Christopher and Cathy are innocents,
as Adam and Eve once were,
Cory and Carrie their children,
as the memory of their father becomes vague
in their minds—
their father, whose death brought them here.
Their mother has become like Lilith—
Christopher’s first love—
even as Cathy was her father’s first love.
Cathy blossoms like a calla lily in an alley,
and Christopher is entranced by his sister,
who is blossoming into womanhood.
He sees in her the mother he used to know,
and loved without reason.
When Grandmother sees Christopher gazing upon her,
she pours tar on Cathy’s hair;
unlike Samson, it is not her strength she diminishes,
but her beauty.
Christopher saves her crown of glory,
seeing beyond the hair
to the flesh that is as close to him now
as his mother’s breast once was.
Even as Cathy bleeds for the sins of Eve,
Christopher bleeds for the sins of his mother,
feeding his siblings the life of his body.
It was love that saved Cathy’s hair,
love that built the swing in the attic,
love that fed them now.
When Cory, the little mouse who didn’t make it,
lies in repose in the basement—
the hell of Foxworth Hall—
Cathy breaks out,
only to come upon her mother’s new husband
in his sleep.
Like a fairy in a dream,
she kisses him,
sealing a promise that she will return.
Christopher, his eyes turning from blue to green,
takes his sister as Amnon took his half-sister Tamar,
and then begs forgiveness from the sister
he never would have looked at had she not been the only one.
Then these remaining children,
malnourished and unloved,
except by each other,
escape through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
to redefine what makes a family.