House of Women by Sydney Lea

House of Women

All he calls back from the last of the War are cameos.
He’s barely three, and the house all women—mother and grandma,
cousins and aunts and friends, the husbands in Europe or Asia,
in something the women keep calling a theatre. There’s theatre at home,
.. . . . . .he believes. But how can he know it, theatre,
having never seen play nor film, the great drug TV unheard of?
He crouches in the kneehole, curtained, of Aunt Fay’s vanity table

While nightly she daubs on makeup, although it isn’t makeup
that makes her a beautiful woman. With a flourish, he parts the cloth
and the show begins: she’s lovely, despite the polio-withered
leg that makes her lurch so dramatically. The lurch—
.. . . . . .it’s part of the beauty. All done, she sighs.
She kills the light and lights a smoke: a Lucky Strike,
though he can’t say how he knows that. She puffs and sighs and puffs

Some more and sighs. She must miss the deadbeat Uncle Nick,
who isn’t yet that, the deadbeat, but cruises somewhere in a ship.
The boy doesn’t care. Their daughter Nancy’s a grownup, fourteen,
and flirts with him, though he surely can’t know that word either,
.. . . . . .kisses just sweets from the stores of the women,
inexhaustible, warm. Sun stands low, theatrically so,
on the roof of the Farnums’ house next-door when he appears,

Strapping stranger in khaki, with nerve enough to scamper
up the drive toward the house as though somehow he owned it.
The child is standing watch at an upstairs window, in shock,
the end of a world lying near. He is sick with terror and anger.
.. . . . . .Meanwhile the high-heeled shoes of his mother
avalanche downstairs despite his howls, the impostor
lifting her, swinging her round and round, till earth must seem

Distant to her as a star. His own days of stardom are over.

by Sydney Lea

Editor’s Note: This complex poem flirts with two points of view—the child and the omniscient narrator—which describe an emotional landscape of war and theatre and childhood and how relationships function within these difficult situations.