Spring 2008

Table of Contents - Vol. VI, No. 1


Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

Vonnie Winslow Crist


if not

If Harriet hadn’t been a woman
steeped in bitterness and quick with a smack
who longed for Mississippi and Louisiana
like an alcoholic hungers for booze
after Oliver moved her and their sons north
to Maryland to find a better job
and be closer to his family,
then she might’ve signed the papers
to let her youngest son, Nathan, join the Air Force
when he was seventeen instead of being drafted
into the Army the next year and sent
as a machine gunner to Germany to shoot Nazis
and earn a Bronze Star for a brave act that
he never discussed.

If Nathan hadn’t returned home
with unseen scars from World War II
and his mother’s cruelty,
especially her wartime farewell of:
“I hope you get killed over there,”
and then chosen to join the Air Force
to become a pilot, but after a year
returned instead to Baltimore to begin
a civilian job at Aberdeen Proving Ground,
then he wouldn’t have attended
the dance sponsored by the USO
in his Air Force blues alone, and spotted
a pretty girl with a friend of a friend
and asked for her phone number.

If Alice hadn’t attended a dance
with some co-workers from USF&G
and locked eyes with a handsome man
in an Air Force uniform who decided
when he first saw her that she was
the one for him, and if she hadn’t
known, too, that there was something
remarkable about their meeting,
then they wouldn’t have been wed
in a blizzard at Brown Memorial Church
on December twenty-eighth surrounded by
poinsettias, white candelabras, and smiling
friends and family – except for his mother
who scowled through
the whole joyous ceremony.

If even after Alice retired from USF&G,
she and Nathan hadn’t remained friends
with her boss, Margaret Meyers, and traveled
through the Harbor Tunnel every month
to visit with Margaret and her father in
their little parakeet-filled bungalow in Brooklyn,
then their oldest daughter wouldn’t have spent
countless hours secreted under the arching
boughs of the Meyers’ backyard forsythia bush
with a stack of fairytale booklets from
the nineteen-twenties in her lap,
teaching herself to read
and making up her own stories about
the characters on those pages.

If I hadn’t been the oldest daughter
of Alice and Nathan, then I wouldn’t have
spent much of my childhood among
adults who tried to entertain and amuse
by handing me marbles, seashells,
National Geographic Magazines,
McCall’s paper dolls, and old children’s books –
including the fairytale booklets,
that not only featured a story and
delicate illustrations, but each also had
an eight-line poem on the back cover
that I would memorize and recite
to the flock of attentive birds
that fluttered in Grandma Margaret’s house.

And if I hadn’t been given those books
with their magic and poetry,
that time alone surrounded
by startlingly yellow blossoms
and the hum of bees eager for
summer’s abundance, and
the assurance that all was well
as long as my parents were near,
then I would never have fallen in love
with words beneath the curious black
eyes of azure, jade, and citron parakeets who
nodded their heads, spread their wings,
and whistled their songs like
a chorus of Greek muses.


© Vonnie Winslow Crist



Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

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