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Dorty Nowak

Nut Brown Red


They moved through the rooms 

of my childhood, two magnets 


that repelled. Once 

they must have attracted 


one another. I’m proof of that.

She, whose hair sparked 


red in the sunlight. He, a black-eyed 

leading man, who shot


thunderbolts from his silences.

I don’t know what drove them 


apart, perhaps boredom,

or a betrayal, unspoken.


They slept in separate rooms.  

She went to bed early, he late.


But they kept up appearances, 

dined with friends, she in strappy heels, 


lips always painted her favorite shade,

Nut Brown Red. My hunger 


drove me to Anna’s house,

where we laughed and tumbled on 


her parents’ bed, where 

dinners weren’t spiced with anger.


When I was 40, I came to see my mother. 

Cancer had burned her fiery hair to ash. 


But for me, she put on 

her game face. After she died, 


my father kept her picture 

by his bed. Each week he 


brought flowers to her grave. Always

roses, always darkest red.

Half-Way There

How could you? My father

turned to me, his voice

a dagger. A sign by the gate,

gold letters on black,

welcomed us to Meadowlark.


Mute before him, I am again

the chastised child. His face wavers

against a blur of black and glitter.

Why now a rent in dementia’s veil—

clarity to be celebrated any other time?


Was it the lie I told him? His destination

described as if it were a spa?

Or the unexpected betrayal 

by a daughter, who unlike his sons,

never gave him trouble.


Midway to Kansas, I stopped 

to shop for snacks, keeping

an eye on the door. He joined me 

at the checkout, empty-handed.


Daddy, what’s in your pockets?

Smiling like Santa opening his sack

he pulled out gum, a rhinestone

barrette, a small stuffed bear.


You can keep one.  He chose 

the bear. 


My brothers had gone before

to ready his room—by the window,

his chair with the rump-sprung seat, 

on one wall pictures of my mother, 

the three of us when we were small.


Sunlight burnished the scarred bookcase

where he’d kept his current loves. 

As children we marveled how he could

reach for a book, rifle the pages, find

the right words every time.


Alone, I cried my way home.

My father later told my uncle he 

was grateful I’d done this for him—


I was the only child who could.


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