It is always twilight when Gramma runs
a tepid bath for my sister and me, four inches
of amber water from the well. Through the window
she watches her luminous garden grow dim, past
the row of outhouses gone to honeysuckle, cabbage roses,
crinkly petunias, vines holding late afternoon
to the ground. In summer nightgowns, carrying
a cracked ceramic chamber-pot between us, we climb
to the one-bedroom apartment where our parents lived
their first married year. Mother drank gin and bourbon
from bottles hidden under the bed and their thick voices
vibrated down the varnished stairs, creased the crimson
rug in Gramma’s front room. When we all visit, they
do not sleep together the way they once did. I pull back
tight covers on the bed in the room beneath gabled windows,
rumpling sheets Gramma spent the morning ironing,
slide into the bed’s furrow. My sister clambers up
the four-poster where Great-Grandfather Carter died,
arguing our early bedtime. I do not mind smoky light
pooling under window-shades. Across the highway
hundreds of birds line branches of an old oak, their
voices loud inside this space. My sister is asleep in the front
room. I wait for my parents’ footsteps, foggy silence.
Then a smooth scoop in my bed when my father pulls
soft blankets to his shoulders, rolls into me. Then he sleeps.
Birds settle the night. My father’s breath drones. The birds
wake early. At last, dawn, I fantasize their twittering songs.
Virginia Chase Sutton is the author of the books Embellishments, Of a Transient Nature, and What Brings You to Del Amo, which won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, as well as the recently released chapbook, Down River. Seven times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she has won the Untermeyer Poetry Prize at Bread Loaf and the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Comstock Review, and Peacock Journal, among many other literary publications, journals, and anthologies. She lives in Tempe, Arizona.