After Gwendolyn Brooks
The empty woman had hats to show
most had feathers, pink as candy hearts,
one even had a peacock’s eye.
In her hair, combs of polished abalone and wood,
curls, red as coral, always coiffed in the most
modern fashions of her day.
She dripped with rhinestones and Chanel N˚ 5, indulged
in black velvet gloves reaching past her delicately
sumptuous elbows. She cooked Blueberry-Almond
Crêpes for breakfast, kept Baudelaire
at her bedside and loved ballroom dancing in her
shiny gold heels and satin dress, slippery as water.
Every Wednesday she read fairy tales
at the House of Love Orphanage and bought books
for the children to keep. The empty woman loved
to see their eyes glittering like Fourth of July sparklers
in anticipation of which story she would read next.
Debonair gentlemen courted and spoiled
the empty woman with lavish gifts: hand-picked
wild daffodils, black pearls, and delectable Belgian Chocolates.
They serenaded her with sweet love songs,
claiming the words did no justice to her beauty, kissed
her beneath willows, vowed to love only her but
none could win her heart.
The empty woman had nieces, nephews who
loved her as fiercely as she loved them,
who never tired of their aunt’s stories or her exotic life;
had sisters who loathed her, cringed every time
she thanked them with a merci beaucoup, sisters
who rolled their eyes at stories of Morocco and Portugal.
The empty woman bought toys, her sisters despised:
Russian nesting dolls, charm bracelets, silk
socks (thought inevitably to tear), and a good luck
elephant with a trunk raised so high, the sisters thought
it rivaled the empty woman’s thin, pert nose.
On Sundays the sisters crocheted, effortlessly spinning
practical yarn into elaborate scarves hats and booties
while they reminisced over days, pre-husband, pre-children;
days when the empty woman was the young one
they cared for.
They remembered dressing their little sister, reading
her stories, teaching her skills they thought a young
woman should eventually know: how to cook
hard-boiled eggs, the art of sewing buttons and hems,
how to crochet blankets.
In their soiled housedresses, with swollen legs
and aching bodies the dowdy sisters turned
their tired heads away; (not wanting to think
of their own lives, of their sons and daughters watered
like tiny plants, wondering if they’ll thrive; of husbands
who hadn’t touched them in months, and
wombs, now empty as their hearts.)
Alyssa Yankwitt is a poet, teacher, and bartender. Most recently, her poems have been published in Curio Poetry, Poetry In Performance, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and The Missing Slate. She has incurable wanderlust, loves drinking whiskey, and hates writing about herself in third person.