By Andrea Hollander Budy
One of the regulars had cancer
in those days before chemo,
and even after the beautician lowered
the hair dryer canister over the woman’s head,
she talked nonstop about the intense heat
of cobalt treatments, the way her body burned
in places she’d rather not name,
how her skin there felt more like leather.
When she paused, the beauty parlor grew
strangely quiet: only the hum of the dryers,
the occasional whoosh of water at the sinks.
Until she spoke again, no one looked at her.
Then she droned on, but this time
about her son, who’d stopped coming by
now he had a wife who had him
wound around her little finger.
I didn’t understand yet
it wasn’t his wife that kept the son away.
I was seventeen and only a guest
in this world
where my mother was a regular
on Wednesdays. That day she sat up front
among the women’s magazines.
After I was done, we’d go to lunch.
And in a few days she’d tell me
her own bad news. She’d say she didn’t want
to spoil my senior prom. But that afternoon
as the woman carried on and on and on,
she already knew what she knew.
Andrea Hollander Budy is the author of three poetry collections: “Woman in the Painting,” “The Other Life” and “House Without a Dreamer,” which won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Other honors include the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize for prose memoir, the Runes Poetry Award and poetry fellowships the National Endowment for the Arts. She is also the editor of “When She Named Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American Women.”