Girl at a Desk, Maryland Avenue School

She stares into the camera, no trace of a smile.
Her dark eyes look straight at you.
Not more than ten, thin, with a mass of dark ringlets.
Her white blouse hangs loose on her,
a hand-me-down from the half-sisters.

You can’t tell that she’s motherless,
lives with her father and the grandma,
lives in a crowded old house,
the three girls sleeping together,
this one stuck in the middle, not much room
but at least she keeps warm.

The classroom is empty, though it’s likely
the photographer lined up the children,
told each one to sit quiet while he looked
through the viewfinder, made them keep still,
clicked away until he’d captured them all—
boys who would go on to work in the tin mills,
or the Cumberland coal mines, where the pay
was good but the air would soon corrode the lungs,
early death was unavoidable.
Girls who would marry, have too many children,
who’d endure the hard times to come—
but that was a long way off, a decade ahead.

On that spring day of school pictures,
the teachers, all single women, lined up in rows
in front of the brick school for their picture,
standing at the exact midpoint of the two entrances
one proclaiming GIRLS, the other BOYS.
The photographer arranged the teachers by height,
the children stood on the narrow sidewalk,
giggling as the photographer said, “Say cheese, ladies!”
The teachers couldn’t stop laughing.  That was the day
the girl at the desk made a vow to be like them,
be one of them. She wrote the word in her copybook,

Teacher. Then, I will be a teacher. There might be
a husband, maybe children, maybe not.
She walked home in the bright afternoon light,
her plan, her wish pressed against her chest.

~Lynne Viti

Originally published  in October, 2017, in  This I Know, Warren Artists’ Market anthology

The Baltimore Day Express

I left the child with the mother-in-law,
just for a week. My bed was my sister’s sofa,
The coffee on the stove woke me up.
I never slept so well in all my life.
Before I knew it, I was served with papers, called
to court to answer the complaint—grounds of desertion.
They brought in a fellow who said he saw the kid
walking by herself down Baltimore Street on circus day,
with me nowhere in sight.
He said I’d been at breakfast at the Queen City Hotel
with a police sergeant. Another one swore I went camping
in mixed company down at Paw Paw.
Not long after, the judge handed down his order:
Divorce granted to Mister, grounds of desertion.
I didn’t care who knew, talk never bothered me much
but it seemed best to go down to Baltimore. There’d
be plenty of work for me there.
My sister saw me to the train, handed me the lunch
she’d packed, promised she’d watch out for my girl
till the day I got custody back.
From the train window I looked
at the tangle of tracks along Front Street.
The train pushed up the mountain, leaving
Cumberland trapped in the mist.
Dark puffs curled from the factory smokestacks.
I reached into my carpetbag for a magazine,
lost myself in the lives of Chaplin, Pickford,
dozed, their silver images flickering in my dreams.
By nighttime we reached the Mount Clare Station.
You could almost see the heat rise
from the cobblestone streets, the automobiles,
the horse-and-buggies jockeying for the right-of-way.
at my feet, a new city, all mine for the taking.

(c) 2017 Lynne Viti

 

Originally published in Warren Artists’ Market anthology, This I Know, October 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Called It Armistice Day

IMG_2928

 

Until we didn’t—on parents’ day at school
our teacher asked, Does anyone know
the new name of this day?
I turned around, looked at
my father on a folding chair
leaning against his cane—

Cracked speckled terrazzo floors
in the halls, dark wood in the classrooms.
Windows climbed up to the ceiling.
Playground half-cement, the rest blacktop–
the farther from the school the rougher the boys played–
the girls sat on the brick wall by Christopher Avenue,
in sixth grade some got bras, the rest of us were
flat-chested under our white safety patrol belts—

 

My father always asked, was her father in the service?
Army? Navy, maybe? Only my uncle
stayed out of the war—he was too old
had kids had asthma–

My father got a scar on his forehead

got a smoking habit, lost thirty-five pounds in Manchuria,
he  told us  he forecast the weather in China
so we could beat the Japs,
he ate rice and– he averred–dogs and cats
he  flew over the hump–
then sailed to Oran, took a troop ship home,
was skinny when he came off the gangplank
my mother said he didn’t sleep well,
her Dalmatian growled at him.
My father  didn’t like the house
she bought when he was away—

He bought the Legion’s paper poppies after church
or in the Food Fair parking lot.
I kept them on my dresser
clear up till Christmas.

 

 

Copyright  2015 Lynne Viti