By on Aug 8, 2015 in Poetry

1970s kitchen with pool out window

I never saw my mother in a bathing suit
like the other wives on campus, the boarding
school where our fathers taught. The summer of ’76 stuck
to our tanned skin in the boredom of long,
humid days in PA. The radio reported record heat
waves that year. On Saturdays we were barred
inside until the house was “redd up,” a command
in her Pittsburghese to clean up. She knelt
down by our side on hardwood floors, a bucket
of Murphy oil soap at her hip.
Row upon row of washed out
photographs of our ancestors
in the hills of San Martino peered
down from the mantel. Yet
this was the hour when other faculty kids
at the prep school began to scent
the chlorine in the campus pool.
Other than swimming,
the small coal mining town down the mountain
across the Kiskiminetas River offered little distraction.
Led by her quick hands around the house, we scrubbed
the bathroom tub with Clorox, vacuumed
rugs in every room, wiped clean the bottom
of kitchen drawers. By late August
the noon heat clutched the wilting
wallpaper. I’d grumble,
is Nana coming to stay for the week?  In silence
she would just work along side me mopping
the steep stairs, smiling consent. In the bedrooms
my older sisters lip synched
Diana Ross’s No Mountain High Enough
on the hi-fi, squabbled over whether Patty Hearst
was faking Stockholm Syndrome. Downstairs
my brother wisecracked
about the neighbor’s slutty daughter. All this banter
in the house was like music to her. Only
years later did we find out
that she did not know how to swim.
At the time what we could not know
was how her Saturday cleaning ritual held
us in place next to her, wavering
in the heat where no one would sink
to the bottom of the deep end of the pool.


Anthony Botti's poetry has appeared recently in Comstock Review, The MacGuffin, Cider Press Review, Caveat Lector, Clark Street Review, Old Red Kimono, Tiger’s Eye, The Rockford Review, and Peregrine. He lives in Boston with his partner and their pug, Ernie, where he works in health care management at Harvard University.