Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Nanny

I'm the nanny.
I'm not some sawed-off Jap bitch, trailing cherry blossoms,
smiling like she just heard the Holy Haiku, even as she
slips your pearls into her pocket.

No.

I'm an American girl from Sioux City,
with a crew of younger sibs I practically raised myself.
Our mom was a goth who got old,
sitting on a tombstone on weekday afternoons,
reciting Baudelaire from memory
while I was left home to field calls from the school
and to fix French toast for a screaming pack of snotty-nosed midgets.

I loved them.
I did.
I do, still.

My employer calls herself Hecate, what kind of name is that?
You wouldn't think it to look at her, 
with her no-nonsense, wash-and-run short 'do
and the Blackberry and the Bluetooth
or whatever all that crap is,
but the woman could get knocked up just by standing in the moonlight.

Don't think she doesn't let me know it.
Don't think she doesn't hammer me over the head
with her fecundity.

Look, you, I play a mean game of Candyland.
You haven't seen me in action--
I can be so sweet, you'd swear my veins were full of Splenda.
I've got those good birthing hips,
and can lug two brats around and boss the rest
without missing a beat.

In the evening,
when she turns back into a fucking pumpkin,
it's "Thank you, Janet," with a certain unmistakable finality,
like I'd just finished bagging her fucking Yoplait and arugula,
not taken care of her children all day.

Swing that sledge.
Drive that spike.
Is this any life for a smart, sensitive girl like me?

Weekends, she's got her garden,
like having a functioning uterus makes her The Ultimate Earth Mother.
Look at the sun, how it revolves around her head,
her personal golden halo.
"Are you all right, Janet?" she asks, standing in the open bathroom door--
her door, her bathroom, her porcelain and Kohler faucets--
as I puke my guts out.
No one holds my hair;
nobody runs for the Kaopectate.
The kids stand behind her and stare, as if they'd never seen me before.

In my room, I pray to whatever benevolent or malignant gods there may be.
Hear me, I say,
but they don't.

Monday comes, and Hecate gets in her MKZ, swinging her heeled foot in last,
as if she were Carmen, expiring on stage at the Met.
A whole weekend!
The kids, the friends, her husband Dave with his golf shirts,
all of them expecting, needing, smiling as they shell her.

"Sweet pea," she whispers to Madison, the youngest,
"You want to be just like Mommy when you grow up,
don't you?"

That afternoon, I park them in front of cartoons,
which I am never supposed to do.
I am supposed to play them Bach,
and try to teach the six year old Italian.
Fuck this, I think to myself, fuck this, fuck this!
Emmy, always the little caretaker, stands three feet away from me,
looking uncertain, one shoe untied, and very quietly wonders,
"Are you having a crisis, Miss Jan?"

I laugh. She is so kind and so doomed.
That night, I call my mother for the first time in weeks.
"Stop crying," she croons in her oddly endearing smoker's voice.
"Baby, stop crying."

By July, I am back in Sioux City, and it is sweltering.
I have an upstairs flat,
and time on my hands.
Hecate and Dave promised to give me good references.
I hugged the children, kissed them, 
but I couldn't speak until I was miles from them, almost to the airport.

Mom and I order mocha lattes and take them to the viaduct
where the commuter trains pass over our heads.
We sit by the crap-choked water and pretend we are visiting Lourdes,
though whether as nurses or cripples, who knows?

Emmy made me a construction paper angel the day before I left.
She had it in both hands, and presented it so solemnly, it was hard to bear.
"Ciao," she said.
"Ciao, baby," I managed.

I am the nanny, or was.
I still have that angel,
and I have my mother, whom I have forgiven.
I ask her one afternoon, as the trains go by,
"What would you like, if you could choose? What would make you happy?"
"Why, honey, I'd like to meet Baudelaire, In Paris.
We'd have an affair, and he would write me my own gorgeous, dark poems.
What about you, baby? Where would you go? What would satisfy your heart?
Can you tell me?"

She has never spoken so tenderly to me before.
My throat is dry, as if I had not spoken for years.
"Maybe Florence," I tell her,
"In the Spring."
Then we are quiet,
and the last train heads west instead of east,
straight into the halo of the sun.
_______


linked to Dverse Open Link #79

20 comments:

nene said...

Wow! do you know this nanny intimately? I've seen her before in Chicago, I think. Sitting on the ledge overlooking the river, between Wacker and Michigan Street.

You took me for a ride there, you spectacle of creativity (fecundity).

Gracias mi amiga

Kerry O'Connor said...

Sometimes words fail to summarize what a poem means to me. Can I say that I immersed myself in your story, and let it steal my breath away.

Daryl E said...

an epic ... loved it

hedgewitch said...

I don't know how you manage to do these things, create something with such a strong internal integrity out of so many divergent mosaic bits of emotional flotsam, fragments of profound insight, dregs and diamonds of human doom and damnation, then turn it into a narrative of salvation that blooms like a sad persistent lamp in too long night.
This is a novel condensed into a poem, or a poem translated into a novel, surreal and too real all at once.

jasmine said...

Yay! A super long one! Hey, I don't ever say that. I like 'em short ... but from you, the longer the better. That says something, eh?

These are my favorites:

"but the woman could get knocked up just by standing in the moonlight" This is so me!

"Look, you, I play a mean game of Candyland."

"I can be so sweet, you'd swear my veins were full of Splenda." Ew. I hate that stuff. But I dig this line. It sure says a lot about the funky taste of fake sweetness.

"I've got those good birthing hips,
and can lug two brats around and boss the rest
without missing a beat." That's me too.

"like I'd just finished bagging her fucking Yoplait and arugula,
not taken care of her children all day"

"Is this any life for a smart, sensitive girl like me?" Okay, this poem is hitting "home" a little too hard. Moms can be nannies too; they just work for the dads and don't get a paycheck.

"like having a functioning uterus makes her The Ultimate Earth Mother"

"as I puke my guts out.
No one holds my hair ...
The kids stand behind her and stare, as if they'd never seen me before." Seriously, Shay. I really miss my mommy now.

"benevolent or malignant gods" Nice pairing!

"'Are you having a crisis, Miss Jan?'
I laugh. She is so kind and so doomed."

"though whether as nurses or cripples, who knows"

"'Why, honey, I'd like to meet Baudelaire, In Paris.
We'd have an affair, and he would write me my own gorgeous, dark poems.'" Ha! Well she sure had a ready answer. I like the way you referenced her affinity for Baudelaire at the beginning of the piece. Nice framing. You've let me know that the mother has never let go of her longing for something very specific, even if it will never happen. But in contrast, the daughter really doesn't know what would make her happy. When she does think of an answer, it is presented as a question; nevermind, no it isn't. My brain read it with a question mark. "I don't know. Maybe Florence?" as if asking her mom if that's an okay dream to have because she hasn't allowed herself to have any for so long. Now she doesn't know what to do with herself, even though she is technically "free."

Oh, that last stanza is exquisite! Definitely my fave.

No happy ending here. It's an excellent piece, but now I feel very sad. I'm going to take the kids to McDonald's and read while they play so that I can pretend I'm a storybook character who actually has a dream.

Excellent writing, my friend. ;)

TexWisGirl said...

really great work. a novella.

'she is so kind and so doomed.' bless her sweetness...

Helen said...

I can imagine you breathless as you wrote this ... I am breathless just reading it!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

This is stupefyingly brilliant - so real. So REAL! The dry throat at the end - mine was dry by then,too. From holding my breath all the way through. Incomparable writing, kiddo.

myheartslovesongs.com said...

go back to work please....

you've already proven you are the most fucking brilliant poet in all the universes, so just go back to work...

gawd! i love this!!!

Sioux said...

WITF did you channel to get this poem? Jeezle.

For some reason, I loved "crap-choked water" as one of the most precious gems of this piece.

Brian Miller said...

really nice story telling shay...with your own brand of fun along the way, snark a bit but at the heart a great learning that takes place in most of our lives which is realization of the life of our parents and how hard it is at times...seriously tight write poet...

manicddaily said...

Agree with all, a whole story squeezed in here, quirky, human. k.

Mama Zen said...

This is stunning, Shay. Truly.

HermanTurnip said...

I was expecting a different sort of ending, but was happy not to get it. Yours was much more subtle and emotional. Loved it!

Laurie Kolp said...

When I read the first line, I thought your poem went with shawna's... Great story... Are you writing a novel yet?

Arron Shilling said...

hardcore and raw . . . ROAR!
great energy from the get-go.
maintaining a snappy and sharply
entertaining rythmn and pace . . . an authentic voice that takes the reader for a ride . . .a trip!

Roselie said...

Loved this...You 've had me transfixed...

Steve King said...

Powerful, immediate...you pick the adjective you like and I'll agree...This is your own form of epic tale, without false notes or dead ends. Everything moves the narrative forward. Outstanding job.

Mystic_Mom said...

Shay you rock! As usual.

Isadora Gruye said...

Pardon me..but this is just fucking brilliant. I find so much richness in your characterization, it reminds me of one of my favorites...Dorothy Allison, blended of course with Acker (have you read Ackers My Mother A Demonology...do you own a copy. I suspect you might and if you do, I'll trade you some time with it for a print of the Aztec lady).

To me this isn't about a nanny at all, but the irony of that title.

I could go on with a line by line analysis, but it would break the damn internet. Just know that I have ingested every syllable here, and they have burned out my the savory taste buds on my tongue.

Viva la