Elya Braden: Three Poems



My body was a highway interchange.
             Father, brother, frat boy,
                          preacher’s son.

All the “no’s” I couldn’t say like nickels,
             dimes and quarters tossed
                          into the pockets of my tollbooth.

People say I look like my mother, but my father’s nose
             dominated my face until a doctor’s
                          hammer and file erased daddy’s grip.

But I can’t scrape his freckles from my arms.
             They lead me back to childhood—
                          an atlas of fingerprints rising from my skin.

My mother met a woman she thinks
             is her half-sister, the legacy of her father’s affair
                          when she was 11. 11, my age when my father

scored with his office confidant and co-worker,
             when my parents threatened to divorce.
                          Infidelity—is it a gene passed down to me?

Alone at the beach, I dream of my former lover
             kissing me in taxis, in his tiny two-seater, in my green convertible.
                          Moving forward, on a divided highway.

The blackberry vines overrun my garden.
             They suckle from deep roots, choke my cool mint.
                          Their red hunger ripens to purple, bursts.


How to Be Deposed


Apply two coats of waterproof mascara.
Floss until it steadies your hands. Sit down
while you sheath your winter legs
in ultra-sheer pantyhose, Nude #2. Remember
the time before your ninth deposition,
teetering in your hallway in a twisted
tree pose, you wrenched your back,
flailing like a netted trout.
Do not bat your eyelashes at your lover,
I mean, lawyer, until you two are alone
in a taxi fleeing the scene.
Don’t shriek when plaintiff’s counsel
accuses you of sleeping with
the defendant. Try to forget
that co-counsel’s son carpools
with your daughter. Count the lines
in the wood grain of the
conference room table. Hum
in your head to the rat-a-tat
of the stenographer’s flying fingers.
Breathe. Wait for your lawyer’s objection.
Later, when he asks: Was it true?
don’t slap him. Don’t place a straight razor
near your bubble bath. Leave
your pearl-handled revolver at home,
tucked under your monogramed hankies.
Remember you don’t have a revolver…
or hankies. Remember all the dimes
you earned ironing your father’s hankies.
Try to forget his shadow in your doorway.
Try to forget his hand over your mouth.
Try to forget the sticky touch of your brother’s
beanbag chair on your bare thighs,
your brother’s threat: I’ll tell everyone what you did.
Try to forget his needling question:
Does it feel good when I touch you here?


Open House


They razed my childhood home, dug a dungeon
for a dozen cars, paved over the plush green
frontage to plant a trio of pudgy cherubs, and ringed
the vast entryway with towering Corinthian pillars.

They demolished the green and white-trellised
garden room where we played backgammon and
gutted my mother’s beloved flower beds to build
a dining room large enough to host a village.

They wiped out my yellow bedroom linked to my sister’s,
but not my rage at her waking me on weekends,
pouncing on me, pinning my arms beneath
her skinny knees, tickling me past my screams.

They annihilated the mudroom with its reek
of turned earth and laundry, but not the memory
of my older brother, his hair frizzed around his face
like an antique gold halo, framed by a white door,
his voice, asking, no, telling me to come upstairs to his room.

They ravaged my parents’ master suite, trashed
the velvet-flocked wallpaper, the his and her baths,
but I still hear the echoes of my father’s: You stupid bitch!
and the slam of my mother’s car door.

I wish I could have bulldozed it myself.


(Author photo by Bader Howar Photography)

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