WE SPEAK OF AUGUST
By Valentina Gnup
Alone in my kitchen, I copy
a chicken salad recipe from a Woman’s Day magazine
and plan tomorrow night’s dinner.
We don’t know what will happen
between one raindrop and the next,
yet we speak of August as if it were a contract,
a promise the sky made.
When I was twenty-five I married a drummer
and silenced him with disapproval.
Now I’m married to a poet—
he reads poems on the porch
and pets my head like a puppy.
My daughters grew tall as honeysuckle and left—
they took their soft skin, their buttermilk biscuit smell,
the endless hungers that organized my days.
My domain has shrunk to the narrow bone of my ankle.
I did what was asked.
I did what I feared.
Like every woman I have ever known,
I became my mother.
I stroll through the rows of houses and yards;
above me a skein of geese break in and out of formation—
fluid as laundry on a line.
Other women are out walking their dogs,
murmuring to the mothers inside their heads.
In the eastern sky the first star is out,
preparing for the long night of wishes.
At dusk every flower looks blue.
(Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle , where it was given a Rattle Poetry Prize Honorable Mention in 2010, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)
Valentina Gnup has her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is the winner of the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize from Cutthroat journal of the Arts and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Prize. In 2005 her chapbook Sparrow Octaves won the North Carolina Writers’ Network Mary Belle Campbell Book Publication Award. Her poems have appeared in the Hiram Poetry Review, Nimrod, Chelsea, Brooklyn Review, Crab Orchard Review and many others. She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem could be about regret or acceptance. It could be about rites of passage or about the inevitability of the cycle of life. The young woman makes mistakes. The experienced woman knows what it is to have made compromises, to have made sacrifices, to bend with the wind, and to become her mother. There is a nostalgia inherent in today’s piece; a longing not for the past, but a bittersweet looking both forward and back. Gnup’s startlingly honest reflection is paired with beautifully-wrought moments of language and imagery that heighten the joy and pain of a lived life.