Why We Never Tried to Find the Elms
Empty tobacco barns stood in fields
beside the highway in mild light
that seemed dim after summer out West.
In the car, my mother was telling stories
about her college, Our Lady of the Elms,
just a few miles north and west of here.
I knew her stories well. Still
all these years we had never tried
to find the Elms. She had said it was
tucked into a neighborhood
with watered lawns and oak trees,
with spruce houses, stained glass.
It must have been so gracious to a girl
who grew up behind Peter’s Garage
and walked beneath the tracks each day
uphill to St. Bernard’s. I knew.
I had walked with Gram to church
through the tunnel’s stench.
In college, Mom said, she was happy
to sleep on a cot in a room full of girls,
to take classes on Saturday, to pretend
to eat lukewarm mackerel every Friday
while the Dean of Discipline swept
through the clammy dining hall.
By 1987, the rows of cots were long gone.
The few nuns left wore pant suits.
With students, they laughed over lunch.
Every Friday the cafeteria would serve
slices of greasy hamburg pizza
that Mom would have pretended to eat
had we stopped by her old school.
The Nurses Welcome My Father Home
For him, though, that is Worcester,
city of single-serving Table Talk pies
bought at my cousin’s grocery store;
city of coffee ice cream, of scrambled eggs
with kielbasa served at the all-night diner
downtown, served with a can of Moxie;
city of old factories where friends’ parents worked
turned into cannabis dispensaries, shops
that sell hemp clothing; city of pharmacies
turned into vape shops and sushi bars;
city of old schools that look like factories,
coal-soaked stone hulking on the hillside;
city of dirt roads, rough trails retreating
into groves of ailanthus, boxy houses,
and boulders twice their size;
city of the paper he still reads,
amid the politics, looking for funny stories
about marijuana-infused ice cream
available in tomato sorbet or squash
or the wedding at Northboro’s cemetery
where only the minister wore a mask;
city of the accent he is losing
as the nurses welcome him home.
Marianne Szlyk's most recent book is Poetry en Plein Air (Pony One Dog Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Verse-Virtual, the Red Eft Poetry Review, the Trouvaille Review, and other journals/websites. Some poems have been translated into Polish, Italian, and Cherokee. She lives in the DC area with the wry poet and flash fiction writer Ethan Goffman and their elderly cat.