The Devil’s Face

image courtesy of virginia white


Pouring rain while the sun shone on a summer’s day…
I will never forget that moment, that day –
when I saw, without doubt, 
The devil’s face.

A day of fun on the Eastern shore of Maryland where my mother’s husband’s one sister, the nice one, had a place,
I was seven maybe eight,
spending the day playing in the sand and saltwater surf, gathering treasures of shells,
some broken and some whole, all worthy treasures of a child.

Late afternoon, driven by hunger to the picnic tables, where the smell of burgers cooking
mingled with the smell of my little kid sweat and Coppertone with which my mother had slathered me.

Let me see your shells. His sister asked.
I displayed my treasure trove of shells.
His sister oohed and ahhed at each one.

Then the sound of a slap. A back hand. Twice. 

Frank! Frank! His sister yelled, freezing his raised hand
mid-air before he hit my mother a third time.

My mother walking slowly, calmly toward me, taking my hand in her own and leading me inside
the house to the bedroom where our bags were.
We have to go.  We don't have time to get you cleaned up.  Just put your cover-up on. Okay?
Nodding. I did as told.  
Then we walked out the front door of the house.
My mother carrying our big beach bag and holding my hand.
My sand bucket, shells left behind.

We walked.  
Walked until the skin between our toes blistered from our flip-flops, 
cars whizzed by us.
My mother’s face blossomed in bruises.

It was not the first time I’d seen her wear his flowering adornments.  She made excuses, falling 
Or walking into a wall. She had never been so clumsy before.
I’d never borne visual witness to it all before, but I'd heard it when I was supposed to be sleeping.

We came to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, halfway across a cop stopped and got us in the patrol car.
He drove us as far as he could.  Would have done more if my mother had let him is my guess.
Their talk too low for me to make out words from the backseat.
The officer walked into a restaurant and bought me a coke.
The sweet fizz quenching thirst.  My mother drank water.
The officer was trying to talk my mother into something,
exactly what I did not know.  I could not recognize the words
buzzing by my ears.  They made no sense in the string of sound they produced.  My ears still cottony feeling from the road noise of the bridge, from the stinging skin sound of slaps.         
Then the officer tried to get my mother back into the patrol car, but she said we’d be alright.  His shoulders sagged, I remember. He dropped his head and looked at the ground.  Then nodded and got in his patrol car and drove slowly away.  My mother took my hand and we walked again.  My legs were heavy.  But still we walked.  My mother’s eyes focused straight ahead, and I resolved to be just as she— straightening my back, lifting my head, focusing my gaze straight ahead.  We walked.  
Then a blue pontiac squealed by and stopped ahead.  Frank got out of the driver’s seat and began talking right away.  Saying he was sorry, he’d never do it again, wouldn’t we get in the car, things didn’t need to be this way.  He knew a little place just up the road. Let him buy us dinner he asked.  We still passed him, passed his car.  Finally, my mother gave in.  She put me in the back seat and got into the front seat of the car.  
It started pouring rain, but the sun was out.

“I’m sorry about hitting your mother,” he said.  “I’ll never do it again. I promise.  Do you forgive me.” He looked over his shoulder at me.  His blue eyes frosty, the end of his eyebrow curled up where he had pushed his hair off his forehead, the red in his hair glistening in the sunlight. I nodded my lie.

He chuckled, looking out the window.  “Do you know what they say about when it rains like this? Pouring rain but the sun is shining.  They say it’s when the devil beats his wife.” He looked
at me from the rear view mirror.  My mother was silent, staring straight ahead.  He moved the car forward.  
Then I prayed for God to allow me a mission because I knew what he looked like, I had seen the devil’s face.

The Coffee Mug

shattered on the floor
my favorite coffee mug
nothing big, not much of a thing,
just my favorite coffee mug--
sunshine yellow, with coffee beans,
and a coffee spoon printed inside at the top
along with a line from my favorite poem,
“I have measured out my life in coffee spoons”
yes, trite, you might say, emblazoned upon a coffee mug
but still, yes, I loved the mug, love the poem.
and there it was—
shattered upon the floor
there she stood,
apologizing—ad nauseam—
saying she’d buy another to replace it.
But it was not to be found.
Of course, the store didn’t have them anymore.

The mug was the first broken thing.
The first of a few, if it wasn’t liked,
didn’t fit into the ideal 
of what could be
forged of me
if pinched in the grip of tongs 
and held in the fire long enough
to be broken down to a molten,
malleable state, pounded upon the anvil, 
shaped, dipped in water to sizzle cool enough
to start the process over again—
for easy fracture.

Many things ended up broken, 
shelved, stored in closets—
pictureless frames and frameless pictures,
parts of me 
hidden away, never to be seen
sitting on shelves
in black closets—

until I emerged
chipped but no worse for wear
unbroken into the light.