memory I am nine years old.
My mother and I visit our neighbor Mrs. Sherman, who is old and moving
Mrs. Sherman says Yoo-hoo! instead of hello and calls me
is Hungarian and makes us chicken paprikas and sour cream coffee cakes,
has wheels on the bottom of her stove to clean behind it every week.
She tells me to sleep on my back and not my stomach, so that when I grow
I will have a nice fat butt and not a long skinny one like some of these
This, she says, will help me get a husband.
Mostly, I look at my knees as they talk. It is June. And as I think the
visit is over,
out comes a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake, still in its
The cake has been thawing without my knowing it as they talked,
in a gray and white box, with a little snow-covered farm and wagon
that look drawn on by a delicate hand in pencil.
And though I have never walked around a bend and had the hills unwrap
a rotting barn, these big-spoked wheels,
I have seen enough pictures to know I should believe in them, and I do.
Condensation has fogged the cellophane like breath on a window’s icy
but the plastic keeps the winter scene safe,
keeps each white layer snowy with coconut flakes.
What I love about the world is how often we are given
a thing we have done nothing to deserve,
the way I have just been handed this long-forgotten afternoon.
All this time it has been waiting to be opened, untouched
and sweet, in elsewhere’s generous hands.
Real Life Is Always Worse