The Love Song of J. Betty Housefrock


(With profuse apologies to T. S. Eliot)

Ring around the rosy,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down!

Let us go then, you and I,
When the afternoon is spread out against the sky
Like peanut butter and grape jam sandwiches;
Let us go and walk through aisles of grocery stores
The linoleum floors
And well-organized rows and rows and rows
Of pasta sauce and pasta bows:
Aisles that follow like a commercial spot
Of insipid plot
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “Of your own volition?”
Let us go back to the kitchen.

In the room the women come and go
Interviewing for CEO.

The warm summer breeze bounded against the screen door,

The warm wind jumped with eager paws on the screen door,
Nudged the door open with its sweaty nose,
Nuzzled my crotch and lifted my skirt,
Scampered into the living-room and knocked over a vase
Bumped into the sofa and jumped again,
And seeing that it was a temperate August day,
Ran through the screen door again to play.

And indeed there will be time
For the warm summer wind that rushes around my feet
and bounds against the screen door.
There will be time, there will be time
To put on a little makeup for people I may meet

There will be time to scream or write,
A time for indulging a predilection
Without the interruption of another nose-wipe;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a thousand more canceled writer groups
As I camphor a thousand more colds and croups,
Steaming in the bathroom with a cup of tea.

In the room the women come and go
Interviewing for CEO.

And indeed there will be a time
To wonder, “How did I get here?” and “How did I get here?”
Time to put the groceries on the shelf
An older sister to myself –
(They will say: She’s starting to look just like her mother!”)
My strands of gray, my belly pooching out a bit,
My wobbly neck, my droopy tits –
(The will say: “She used to be all charm and wit!”)
How did I get here?
Who can say?

A kitchen timer’s single tick sounds out
The regrets and laments which another tick will erase.

For I have known them all already, known them all:---
Have known the poets and princesses and girls-on-trapeze,
Read of them in magazines, watched them on TV;
I’ve heard the highbrow come-back in a distant room
Down a hallway too narrow for a stroller to fit through
So what else can I do?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that examine under a sterile white bulb,
And when I am examined, tweezed and shaved and plucked,
When I am plucked and naked in the mall,
Then would it come down to pure bad luck
That the suits and pumps are all too small and my skin is naturally dull?
So what else can I do?

And I have known the ten fingers and ten toes, known them all—
Fingers soft and dimpled and fat
(But sugared and sticky and haired from the cat!)
Do caresses from these hands alone
Tie my aprons to the home?
Hands that tug at my skirt, or reach up to be held?
So what else can I do?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have pushed carts through shopping marts
And stood in the kitchen organizing spice racks and boiling water
For one more meal of macaroni and cheese with a side of green salad?…

I should have been a mother goose
Pecking through sandy ground followed by a gosling.

And the afternoon naps, the bedtime hour’s calm and quiet
With rituals of childhood
Once…upon…a time,
I look up at my own mother, her blond hair.
Should I, after golden books and twinkle stars,
Remember the syllables to compose lines and bars in my own meter?
Though I have scrawled and scribbled, scrawled and been praised,
Though I have clever drafts from novice days,
I am no artist – and there’s nothing I’ve attained;
I have tossed my pencils down the drain with dinner scraps,
And I have seen the Crone pull back her veil and laugh;
My laugh sounds just the same.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the dishes, the diapers, the ritual work,
Among the laundry, among the ironed sheets and shirts,
Would it have been worth while,
To no longer suffer with a smile,
To don my cape and do it all,
To fill the empty page with exclamation marks,
To say, “I am woman, here to roar,
Here to roar the verses of epic song, I shall sing for you all”—
If one, rushing to the next meeting,
Should say: “This is not what we need at all,
This is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the summers and playgrounds and the counting-to-ten,
After the story times, after the tea parties, after the blankets that drag along the floor –
And more and more and more?—
I am losing all my words!
But as if the camera whirs to shoot the last scene of a movie-of-the-week:
Would it have been worth while
If one, rushing to the next meeting or walking out the screen door,
And turning toward the house, should say:
“This is not what we need at all,
This is not it, at all.”

No! I am no Calliope, nor was meant to be;
Am a writer-for-fun, one who jots down
To get a smile or a chuckle or frown,
Switchback a phrase, toss some similes around,
Contented, writing all white and black,
Two drafts, seldom diverse, between cookies and naps;
Sometimes making sense, sometimes too abstract;
At times, I’m sure, almost an ass —
Almost, at time, a hack

I aim to please…I am to please…
I’ll write some hints for Heloise.

Shall I buy that new toothpaste? Do I dare to switch from Aim?
I shall sort my coupons outside, and listen to the rain.
I have heard the fairies call to evening play.

I do not think that they will call my name.

I have seen them dancing bare foot through the clover
Twirling and spinning in twilight’s purple air.
A thousand fireflies flickering in their hair.

We have closed our eyes and dreamed the muse’s dream
Of enchanted bowers and fires in the sky
Till kitchen timers wake us, and we sigh.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

My favorite verses from the original:

"And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?"

How could I have known? Why didn't I take the time to read through your archives with the fine tooth comb of my eyes - when the opportunity first presented itself? And how can I begin to do so now? When time is against me?

This is my favorite poem. I don't even really like poetry. But I love T.S.

And I think your sister piece tops it.

if you were standing before me, I should throw myself at your velvet feet, begging for but a glance from the genius dryad of Philadelphia.

I think you're the coolest person ever. seriously. when I think that *you* tried to spread the word about *me* -- gah. I am horrified. I wince. you -- wow.

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