Clela Reed

The six bottles of unopened perfume I found last night

in my mother’s dresser and brought to the nursing home

were plucked up readily by her hovering aides.

Earned tips, I reasoned, and so did they, no doubt.

I’ll imagine them circling this new resident’s

wheelchair, a dark green flock in the Avon scent

my mother kept forgetting she’d bought when

the woman who came to her door for twenty years

showed up again, sweet-dealing free samples.

Mother’s sense of smell had driven her—

missionary of cleanliness, sergeant of fresh air

and light, she sniffed out the slightest mildew,

the earliest taint or sour or funk that to her alone

screamed spoiled. The odors of our house oscillated

from Clorox to gardenias, from Windex to casseroles.

At four she would bathe off the day. Emerging

from steam and powder into a cotton housedress,

she’d brush out pin-curls and lipstick a smile onto lips

she’d lift to kiss my father home. Doris Day cheery,

Betty Crocker smart, my mother relished her clean-wife role,

weighing compliments on her house and on her skin as equal.

Now I wheel her through scents that betray failing bodies

she does not, will not note, and when I kiss her stale forehead,

she looks up and smiles, hanging out the clean past in the sun.

Clela Reed

When they ask—as they do

—why she decided to grow

her hair long again

at the brink of elderhood

(in that churning wake

of children and career

when the narrows rush the current),

she says things about the versatility

or ease, or she laughs about not wanting

to be a poodle-head any more,

or gathers up wisps at the nape

and demonstrates the efficiency

of the enduring updo.

But she never for a moment

tells them how she regards

her shadow on a late afternoon walk

when the breeze lifts her hair

slightly from her shoulders

and the girl-silhouette

that begins at her feet

strides confidently before her.

Clela Reed

We sit in the radiology waiting room,

four women at 7:30 in the morning.

Our teeth are brushed, our clothing clean,

our hair subdued by clips and braids.

Two of us wear pale lipstick (make-up

always later), and someone’s warm skin

perfumes our common air with lavender.

But inside we know things aren’t so tidy—

in the breast or brain or lung—something’s

gone amok. An action adventure writes itself:

cells rebel, flesh falters, bones break their vows.

We imagine the galloping plot line;

we wait for the story on film at five.

If we’re lucky, we’ll rejoin the cast, stitched up

and smiling, fresh dialogue prickling the tongue.

We’ll play our roles by heart unless, of course,

the heart’s already broken, x-rays showing only

a smudge where the script should be written

on that lump of crumbled sweetness, yielding,

even as we wait, to the vilest understudy.

Clela Reed lives in a hardwood forest near Athens, Georgia. A former teacher who recently left the classroom to write, she attended both the Sewanee and Bread Loaf Writers' Conferences last summer. She is vice president of the Georgia Poetry Society and has a poem published in the current Kennesaw Review.

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