The Powder Box

for Elsie R. Jones

As a child, I loved cleaning day, my mother
taking her special things from the top of her dresser
and placing them gently on the bed. She let Pam,
Michael, and me look at them, touch them.
We promised to be careful, while she worked her
soft dust cloth, and usually were. Among the items
was the Powder Box that’s in the bathroom now—

the one at the back of the house near the kitchen,
near the drawer where Grover Pinky slept,
when it was too cold to keep him in the hatch,
near the place where the low table held Jergins lotion
to keep our mother’s soft hands soft. The box is not gold,
though it seems so to me. Perhaps, it’s ivory—or stone.
I saw a match book inside, when last I lifted its lid.

Shortly after our parents married in Swindon,
Mummy’s home town in green and southern England,
Daddy, who was then a soldier, was sent to Belgium,
then shipped back home to Joplin. Mum followed,
taking the Queen Mary and a train ride from New York.
I digress here into the drama of an oral history,
(for I was not yet born). It seems

another American soldier, who was going home
before Daddy, offered him the box, which Daddy took,
thinking his young wife would like it. The box had
had a lid, but the soldier dropped it, when
full arms would hold no more. And still, he had
presence of mind to describe his walking route,

in the off-chance that his comrade might find
the lost piece like Daddy did, and pluck it—

retrieve it, from a foreign storm-gutter.

first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature