Scarcely affluent, we always had maids.
One worked a few months then left for Detroit,
the next for a husband's home town; some took
their children and returned to elderly mothers
who still lived beneath rural tin roofs,
having found cities and their men "no good."
I was a good girl, they all told me so
when I'd stand by their ironing boards, dipping
my fingers in a bowl of water to sprinkle
on my father's shirts, my mother's lace-wristed
blouses, the pale dresses I wore to church.
The TV murmured with husky-voiced women
in negligees; I was admonished to listen
to what preachers told me, to remember
that Jesus was watching always. I watched
black hands guiding roasts out of ovens,
turning pieces of chicken in skillets
of sizzling oil, noticed the rough pink
of blisters and scars. These hands dressed me
each morning; I imagined they loved me.
One August afternoon, my mother home late,
back from a bridge party, shopping. Delores
had missed the last bus. We drove for miles
through heat-steaming streets to a part of town
I'd never been to; the houses grew smaller
and closer together. Peeling paint.
No real driveways, or yards. Then nothing
but rows of small brick apartments,
"projects," as if someone had made them
for school. Heat shimmered from roof-tops;
as we pulled to the curb, my mother locked both
our doors, I heard a kitchen radio playing hymns,
and saw in the red sun boys my own age
stripped to their briefs, alarmingly white
against their skin, laughing while pummeled
by water from the corner hydrant they'd opened.
copyright by Louisville Review, Story Line Press.