The Table

Once more my family gathers around this table

to share the holiday, to take our food and learn again

those things which divide us.

Hidden now by my aunt's lace tablecloth

we know our places just as the circus that

pitches its tents in the same field each August.

My great aunt from Michigan,

smiling, polite with small careful eyes,

will never bring the woman who shares her apartment.

Another great aunt, Gladys, the atheist,

who retired from the bank and then read mystery novels

until she loses her mind in the Orrington Hotel.

My grandmother, emerges like a dolphin from the steaming kitchen

bearing platters of overcooked vegetables and beef.

My uncle carves the meat, rattling off serpentine puns,

proud are all those present of this bounty found

in a world where rationing and the great depression

still ride uneasy on the mind.

Across from me my sweet cousin and her husband.

Everyone treats them politely, pretending Ted

isn't a 40-year-old warehouseman with no prospects,

glad only that some minutes have passed since

he last told us what an asshole his goddamn boss is.

My mother works hard at being nice to Ted.

My seat is always closest to the cut glass dish of pickles

never the candy dish or even the carrot sticks,

only pickles which no one at this table will ever eat.

My father will wink at me occasionally across the table

as if to say: stay out of warehouses

and watch out for the Orrington Hotel.

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© 2020 by Lane Literary Guild, Lane County, Oregon.