Postcard from the Jct. of Queen Elizabeth Highway and Lake Street, Toronto

Kathleen McGookey

Dear Mother, Does anyone back home ask about us? The Grape Festival is what you’d expect–vast barrels for stomping, leafy crowns on adorable children, painting classes in the vineyards, and crepes and wine and cake. Edith always glances over the shoulder of anyone she meets, then checks her watch. She said my painting lacked a necessary source of light. I was trying not to muddy the paints. In the foyer of the Rockland Gallery, a pouting child refuses a yellow apple all day long. Edith believes in repacking her suitcase every night, shaking out the wrinkles and rolling her clothes back up again. I’ve always liked our pond back home when it’s ruffled by a little breeze.

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Postcard from the Meteor Crater, South of Highway 66

Mother, you mustn’t loan Aunt Irene any of our things. Twice on the night before we left, Edith found her in our closet, breathing on our plaid skirts and saddle shoes, on our one silk dress we can’t keep clean. We wrapped our two necklaces and our two rings in newspaper inside the Wurzburg hatbox. She thinks she’s our size but you know she is not. This crater’s not blasted-out moonscape, rimmed in bloody sand, as the picture would lead you to believe. Yes, bare as sky, but greened and softened over a thousand million years. We might tumble down it if we were younger, and also alone. Edith especially likes to imagine the impact, meteor blazing, rock and sand melted into haze that hovered for months, clouding any source of light. And what might still be underneath? And what was vaporized? Our guide has not been as informed as we’d like. On the trail, he stomped a small clean ring-necked snake to death before anyone in our group could stop him.

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Postcard from the Rue aux Fèvres

Dear Mother, what I thought meant fever really meant Smith. Same for chills and numbers, ache and bread. My dictionary left out the really useful words. I didn’t have a fever but felt one coming on. Edith’s cheeks flushed as we checked in to the White Horse Hotel, which meant she had lost her usual calm. I mean charm. At the pharmacy, I managed I am sick before the man switched to English and shook out some pills. They tasted minty going down. Edith couldn’t say how she felt each blind hour when the clock in the town hall woke her. Sullied? Mercurial? Waspish? Traveling feels like the only thing we’ve ever done. Our hotel sits between the beauty shop and the perfume store. You wouldn’t expect these small-town ladies to smell like violets as they bicycle to market, but they do.

Kathleen McGookey has published three books of poems, most recently Heart in a Jar (White Pine Press). Her work has appeared in journals including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Quarterly West. She has received grants from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sustainable Arts Foundation.