She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness as she paused just inside the double glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape billowing dramatically behind her. What's this, I thought, lifting a hand until she nodded and started across the parquet; that's when I saw she was dressed all in gray, from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl down to the graphite signature of her shoes. "Sorry I'm late," she panted, though she wasn't, sliding into the chair, her cape tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel. We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole. "How's business?" I asked, and hazarded a motherly smile to keep from crying out: Are you content to conduct your life as a cliché and, what's worse, an anachronism, the brooding artist's demimonde? Near the rue Princesse they had opened a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt, plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had carved at breakfast with a pocket knife. "Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course"-- she blushed--"are amused, though not without a certain admiration . . ." The Chateaubriand arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy; one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming. "Admiration for what?" Wine, a bloody Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. "Why, the aplomb with which we've managed to support our Art"--meaning he'd convinced her to pose nude for his appalling canvases, faintly futuristic landscapes strewn with carwrecks and bodies being chewed by rabid cocker spaniels. "I'd like to come by the studio," I ventured, "and see the new stuff." "Yes, if you wish . . ." A delicate rebuff before the warning: "He dresses all in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine-- and even though I think it's kinda cute, in company I tend toward more muted shades." She paused and had the grace to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing, spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue, or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace peering through a fringe of rain at Paris' dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral. "And he never thinks of food. I wish I didn't have to plead with him to eat. . . ." Fruit and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes. I stuck with café crème. "This Camembert's so ripe," she joked, "it's practically grown hair," mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear, speared each tear-shaped lavaliere and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth. Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted vines and sun poured down out of the south. "But are you happy?" Fearing, I whispered it quickly. "What? You know, Mother"-- she bit into the starry rose of a fig-- "one really should try the fruit here." I've lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.
Thirty seconds into the barbecue,
my Cleveland cousins
have everyone speaking
and dropped consonants,
whoops and caws.
It's more osmosis than magic,
a sliding thrall back to a time
when working the tire factories
meant entire neighborhoods coming
up from Georgia or Tennessee,
accents helplessly intact—
while their children, inflections flattened
to match the field they thought
they were playing on, knew
without asking when it was safe
to roll out a drawl… just as
it's understood “potluck” means
resurrecting the food
we've abandoned along the way
for the sake of sleeker thighs.
I look over the yard to the porch
with its battalion of aunts,
the wavering ranks of uncles
at the grill; everywhere else
hordes of progeny are swirling
and my cousins yakking on
as if they were waist-deep in quicksand
but like the books recommend aren’t moving
until someone hauls them free—
Who are all these children?
Who had them, and with whom?
Through the general coffee tones
the shamed genetics cut a creamy swath.
Cherokee’s burnt umber transposed
onto generous lips, a glance flares gray
above the crushed nose we label
Anonymous African: It's all here,
the beautiful geometry of Mendel's peas
and their grim logic—
and though we remain
clearly divided on the merits
of okra, there’s still time
to demolish the cheese grits
and tear into slow-cooked ribs
so tender, we agree they’re worth
the extra pound or two
our menfolk swear will always
bring them home. Pity
the poor soul who lives
a life without butter—
those pinched knees
and tennis shoulders
and hatchety smiles!