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A continuing selection of classic and contemporary poems.

Vacation

Elizabeth Wilcox

When I asked my mother why they were called sand tarts,
she couldn’t answer me—

perhaps this ravenous curiosity causes my brother
to lean with all his 15-year-old winter-break strength on the back of his chair,
gently rocking with the liquid motion of my mother’s hands
as they knead the dough.

The secret to these annual Christmas cookies
(according to the baby-powdered wisdom of a line of grandmothers)
is to create a dough like the wings of a dead butterfly.
My mother’s floured hands glide back and forth
until the fake wood grain on our table cuts through
the fragile edible sheet.

I scatter burned sprinkles.
The scraping of my fingernails across the cooling aluminum to
“I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In”
drowns the coarse snap accompanying the sudden
separation of the leg
from the rest of my brother’s chair.

That night at dinner, my father reaches for the pepper,
perched awkwardly on an old straight-backed chair
from another room, originally a grandmother’s.
Thrown by the alien noise of this chair’s legs against the floor,
a viscous part of my inner ear echoes with

the waves crashing against the shore somewhere in Delaware,
masking the sound of breaking glass
a block away
and the incessant, futile yapping of the Pekingese
tied to a scrubby tree out front.

The cheap bubbles my cousins blow from a plastic magenta bottle
explode before they hit the sand,
reflecting in their formative instant
my mother on the blanket behind us,
picking a scab she didn’t realize she had.

Before the sea reddens, I staunch the rediscovered flow of her blood
with red and green sugars

and somewhere in our basement a three-legged chair creaks
under the weight of a waterlogged seat cushion
smelling suspiciously of salt.
© 2005 Elizabeth Wilcox. Online text © 2005 Poetry X.. All rights reserved.
From The Poetry X Prize for Poetry | Poetry X, 2005
This poem was the winner of the first Poetry X Prize for Poetry, Fall 2004.
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