Gail Peck is the author of eight books of poetry. Poems and essays have appeared in Southern Review, Nimrod, Greensboro Review, Brevity, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Comstock Review, and elsewhere. Work is forthcoming in Shanti Arts, Haunted Waters Press and Voices of Eve. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart, and her work has been cited as notable in The Best American Essays.
My grandmother is washing my hair, adding vinegar so it will shine, she says. I lean over the sink, and try not to get anything in my eyes. I can’t go outside until my hair is dry, and it’s starting to snow, and my friends will be out playing.
I lie on the floor on my stomach and stick my head over the grate. Hurry, I think, get dry. The cuckoo pops in and out of its little door. Iv’e never seen a real cuckoo. Grandmother says they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Why, I wonder.
My mother bought the clock on one of her travels with my stepfather. He’s in the army, and sometimes I’m left with my grandparents. I miss my mom but not him, as he’s taken her away from me. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She likes sequins and a bit of lace. Her hair comes to her shoulders. I watch her comb it. Mine is mousy brown and straight. Grandmother wears hers in a bun. Every day she wears an apron. My mother never wears one. Whatever falls, falls, and my mother likes chocolate even if
it stains her clothes, and she doesn’t scold me for getting dirty. But if I lie, Grandmother tells me she’ll get a switch. She only says that.
It’s snowing harder and sticking to the windows. My hair is almost dry. I’ll get my coat, gloves, and pull the stubborn boots over my shoes. When I get out I won’t want to come back in. Only the thought of hot cocoa will make me. And my mother, who’s home now. She will let me sit close to her on the sofa. When it’s dark I’ll have to go to my bed. The room will be lit with the snow. The cuckoo in the hallway will break the silence, and my grandmother’s footsteps coming with more cover. I pretend to be sound asleep and soon I’m dreaming of a sled, someone pulling me, someone I can’t make out. Then I’m going faster and faster down a hill. The trees are moving, the sky is flying with me.
Letter with Photograph of My Father Leaning in the Doorway of a Plane
He’s writing on Christmas Day, 1951, my birthday, and I am four years old. He writes Exmas, as if something is already past. He was a paratrooper in the 508th Infantry, the “Red Devils,” or “Fury from the Sky.” Now he’s stationed at the 557 Quarter Master Aerial Supply Co. He’s wearing a uniform, cap and thick gloves, perhaps loading a cargo plane.
There is no snow in the city as he writes, but earlier the weather had been bad, and four people were killed in wrecks, and cars and planes grounded for two days. “I do not like snow too much.”
He has received little mail, and my mother hasn’t written in a while. He’s only heard from Aunt Carrie, the woman who raised him. So much love he sends, over and over. Behind on allotment payments, he says to be patient, and to be sure Jr., my baby brother, is sent $20 to the home he’s been placed in at Whitten Village, for “his future or his funeral.”
“Tell Bill, Hazel and Don, and all the folks Merry, Merry Exmas, be a good girl and a good mother to Gail. You can give this picture to Gail.”
I don’t know why my mother hasn’t written my father, or exactly when she divorced him and moved on to another paratrooper, my stepfather. I only know there are forty-four Xs and Os at the bottom of the page signed:
Dewey L. Johnson