Lisa Cheby

The Wake

Claire Anna Baker "Wick" (Detail)

Claire Anna Baker "Wick" (Detail)

I open her Rolodex to my card: (misspelled names of friends, of men I dropped,

                        of the date I came west: June 5, 2002).  

Every sixteen weeks, I flew east, paused my life to keep

            vigil over her shrinking body.

She offered absolution:  As long as you can cry / you know you are able to love.   

Pouting like the child denied rainbow ice cream on a hot day in Dunedin,

I retorted:


            I stroked the blanket on the couch where she spent her nights and days alone.       

            My last visit, we sorted old photos, began the accounting of her life:

I passed the exam for Foreign Service. / To travel the world alone,
I was a bit nervous. /  But I then met your father who followed me / like a puppy in the bottom of some empty sea.  

My mother never spoke in rhyme. Her voice is lost so I give her mine.

In California, I transcribed our suffering,

            I meditated under LA smog, I danced night into morning. 

I feared midnight calls and daylight messages, laden with worry I did not want.  

In Florida, she scratched messages to herself—

white tabbed cards, scraps of paper preserved in plastic protector sheets

tucked in drawers by her bed, by her recliner, by her kitchen sink—

her homemade wailing wall. 

These papers fill my drawers with her chants. Now something like this:

How the Marlboro Man Stole My Heart


1962 Scholfield Barracks, Hawaii


Sunglasses mask bloodshot eyes      camera slung over

            my father's shoulder      black hair slicked back in a wave      white cigarette

                        poised in tan lips     slid into a young soldier's grin



1968 Wedding, Saddlebrook Creek, NJ


Mom leans forward     Dad lounges

            whiskey in his left hand   cigarette in the right

                        waits for her       to strike     the match



1969 Apartment, Garfield, NJ


Newly hung kitchen curtains   white and sheer

            as her new-wife apron       She sits on his lap            

                        all laughter and smoke     all yellowed by time



1977 Kitchen, Chesterfield, NJ


Paintbrush in mother’s hand adds final flourishes to the larger-than-

            life box:   Chesterfields     not Dad's Marlboros      My sister's limbs

                        protrude from the costume     cigarettes    waiting to be plucked



1979 Basement, Chesterfield, NJ


Upstairs Mom listens to Paul Anka    Dad smokes and etches jewelry

            on a vertical mill    behind the drywall     Kris and I choreograph 

                        Copacabana     sequins on leotards      feathers in hair    cigarette girls



1982 A Hospital, A Funeral Home, Trenton, NJ

Proof for the family in Hungary         black and white of arms

            folded over body on bed of satin:    Memory cuts to an old

                        man in an armchair     speaking with my father's voice



Sometime in the 1960s, Before Everyplace Else


In the midst of a party     a woman laughs with wine   

            a man sucks on a cigarette       his eyes           his hand      

                        on her knee      on her    suggest what is to come.




Lisa Cheby has an MFA from Antioch University and a forthcoming chapbook, Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Dancing Girl Press. She is a high school librarian at Verdugo Hills High School where she teaches creative writing and hosts books clubs and writing groups for students. Lisa is the poetry editor for Annotation Nation.  Her poems and reviews have appeared in various journals including The Rumpus, Eclipse, The Mom Egg, The Citron Review, Askew, and Tidal Basin Review and in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Book and The Burden of Light: Poems on Illness and Loss. For more information visit her website: