A Woman In A Polka-Dot Scarf

It was every bit a part of her as her fingers,

Or her voice (mostly silent now), and it didn’t matter

That she might be wearing stripes or checks,

Not that she spent a great deal of time fiddling with her clothes

Or preening herself in the mirror like some dried-up peacock at this stage anyway

As that was for the vain: young girls justly so,

Or faded prom queens who, despite all evidence to the contrary,

Could not accept the primacy of decay.


It’s not like I was never young, you know she would demur,

And, in fact, she had played along—she’d gone to the dances,

Gossiped at the sleep-overs, tried her hardest to work up enthusiasm

At the pep rallies before the games against Ridgway or St. Mary’s,

Even allowing herself to be courted by a shy, gentle offensive tackle

Who was later lost in Korea, forgotten boy in a forgotten war,

But there was always something not quite right,

A certain air of fragility and impermanence, (even though the presence

Of the Montmorenci Mills–hulking, loud concoction of brick, horns,

And cacophonous yelping machinery—cradled the town in its enduring embrace,

And beyond town, endless hills encumbered with spruce and pine

So thick the forest floor never saw so much as a glimpse of daylight

Between December and mid-March) a curious buzzing,

Droning and mosquito-like, saying surely this can’t be all there is;

There must be something true, something fine, something enduring

To hang one’s dreams upon.


She was right, certainly, on the larger point; the mill closed,

Thrusting the town into that collective limbo

Where they couldn’t divorce themselves from a reality

Which no longer existed, and, as the years rolled diffidently onward,

Morphed into something that never truly was (meanwhile the woods,

Digesting the odd abandoned hunting camp or hobo’s lean-to,

Seemed to creep farther toward the main roads every spring),

And each year brought fewer inquiries

As to her availability and amenability until her solitude was final, impenetrable;

Indeed, she never found reason to look back on those days

When she could have been half of something,

Save for the several occasions when (for no reason she could fathom,

Which in itself perplexed her to no end) she thought back

To the time they visited the fortune teller

At the county fairgrounds over in Clearfield,

When the mystic had taken one look at her hand

And said, in a voice shackled in an unspeakable sadness, poor little thing,

You’ll never see forty, I’m afraid.  I’ve never seen a lifeline that short.



9 thoughts on “A Woman In A Polka-Dot Scarf

  1. have i asked you before about the locations for your writing? is this taking place in western PA? i love it, so beautiful, and not even wistful, really, just matter-of-fact. excellent. keep em coming?

    1. While there is no literal Montmorenci Falls per se (and it is a conglomeration of the many Rust Belt mill towns I’ve known) it’s squarely, in my mind anyway, in northwestern P-A.

    1. I had a disproportionate number of friend, acquaintances, and distant relatives who ended up at Allegheny, Thiel, or Grove City, so I have a passing familiarity with Crawford County and the surrounding environs.

  2. I’m with Marian.. keep ’em coming. Having read your work for how long? a year, two? I feel like I’ve been caught up in an endless novel, a spirit of place, which lodges in a special compartment in my brain and the next episode finds its place with ease. Here is another character, achingly familiar and tragic, to add to the pantheon.

  3. This took me away. It’s so wistful and poignant, and I can’t get enough of it. And I completely agree with the others. It does have a lovely flow to it. I’m so glad I found you.

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