Debra Nystrom has published three books of poems, Bad River Road (2009) and Torn Sky (2003), and A Quarter Turn (1991). Her work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best American Poetry, and has received awards from Five Points, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and The Library of Virginia. She teaches in the Creative Writing program at the University of Virginia.(The Poetry Foundation)
My mother bought a dress once and my dad
said it looked like curtains. Nothing if not honest,
nothing much but me to his name, doing his best
about the trike and baby pool, new triple-speed
living-room fan, her just-landed job as a typist
while her mother baby-sat. There must
have been some wedding, or National Guard
occasion–James-Dean handsome he was,
even in eagle-crest hat, glare-polished shoes–
but the dress went right back in its creased
paper bag, unused.
She had modeled it for me first though,
gazing over each shoulder to the longest
mirror before he got home, smeared and hot
from painting houses. How does it look, hon?–
that dress I remember more than any other,
off a rack at London’s, our two-block downtown’s
only clothes store. Scoop-necked, she called it,
for summer. Cap-sleeved. White, with a pattern of
little twisting green vines. I touched the satin piping
that showed off her collarbone, tiny waistline.
Made her look like a full grown fairy out of my book.
Those days she still sang when she sifted flour, folded
laundry plucked off the line by the morning
glories and tulips–“Tammy’s in Love,” “Blue Moon,”
“My Buddy.” Never again got herself
what she wished for, if she knew.