|The author's Aunt Ruth as a toddler
In ’84 or ’85, Ruth gave me her old car,
a gray ’67 slant six Dodge Dart.
My first, I named it Sarah Jane and drove
Ruth around the block, both of us
giggling at this fine car, my joy, her heart.
She wanted it perfect for me, Ruth did,
but the shop cheated her with a radiator
plugged and painted to look black new.
Every hour or so on the solo drive
home, steam rose and I sat
along the highway feeling low.
I read all of Ellison’s Invisible Man
that way, sitting on the hood
in Connecticut, New York, PA,
eating bagels and pissing over the bank.
On one forced stop, I found misplaced
under the seat, cards soliciting
a different life. On the cover, President Reagan
shook Senator Helms’ hand. Inside
he asked every Carolinian to vote
for his friend, Jesse, so together they could
save America. I couldn’t believe
Ruth believed, almost discarded in disgust.
At home, I made great fun with those cards,
rewrote words so the two smiling men
discussed their bomb-blasting hemorrhoids.
Then I sent the cards to all my college friends.
Jesse and Ron no longer shake their hands,
I sold that Dodge, and Aunt Ruth’s dead.
There’s little funny anymore in any of it.
|Her Secret Song
by Jim Minick
|Clear Blue Spring
Her mother leans against the windowsill,
nuzzles peach-fuzzy head, and holds
the newborn to the light. Even then,
days into this world, the Scotch-Irish
blue of Ruth’s right eye begins
to disappear under a fold of skin.
The lid grows like a glacier covering
the landscape of her eye. By age three,
the glacier halts, becomes a bulging fold,
a small mountain with a trickling blue spring
seeping from underneath. At night, her parents
whisper their worry, but they can’t name this
without a doctor’s help. Years later
when a relative offers, the mountain is scarred
by scalpel, but not moved. The surgeons release
an avalanche of family despair. Yet
for both graduations, Ruth smiles
and looks straight into the camera.
She does the same with her sixth-graders
even though they snicker behind her back.
What did that seep of blue see? What coolness
of the underworld did it come to know?
She married late, hesitated at that,
a man sixteen years older.
Did he ever touch that eyelid,
see himself looking into that spring?
Ruth never talked about her eye,
even with sister or best friend,
never explored surgery again.
The doctor at her deathbed hissed,
“Don’t you know what this is?
the elephant man’s disease,
an easy operation today.”
Ruth pushed on in those last long nights
diving into the spring, spelunking through
that coarse mountain, searching for the source.
|Grit, Spit and Will
“That’s the funeral home,”
Aunt Ruth points and nods.
We drive by the white house,
black hearse, subdued sign.
At home, she refuses a wheelchair,
says, “We’ll manage,” like
she told the doctor and quiet nurse.
So from car to sofa I
stumble behind, hold up
her elbows, ninety pounds
heavy with grit, spit and will.
Red-faced and tired, she
collapses, but like the cancer,
refuses to sleep. Later I find
funeral home folder, dark
green like ivy. Inside,
simple directions, cursive
signature, canceled check.
|Ruth with her sister, Alma
|Ruth with one of her 6th grade classes
At the door of the neighbor’s house, I lean
to hold her face, palms on cheeks, fingers
on felt floppy ears. I want to look
into those shy beagle eyes, I want
language to carry this loss. But how
do you tell a dog the woman who saved you
couldn’t save herself, the woman who let
you snore on the sofa and lick all the plates,
your best friend who kissed your furry head
so many times is gone? How, how
do you tell the dog?
|Ruth with her sister, Susan (the author's mother) - 1999