Degrees of Loneliness

Elizabeth Volpe

Some thirty years later
I watch them gather for five o’clock cocktails
on the veranda, cool and clean in sundresses
and sports shirts though the planked floor seems to sag
in the heat. My mother spears an olive, stirs it around
a few times before raising it to her Love That Red
mouth. Dad lifts his old-fashioned and looks at the sky
through swirls of amber and orange. My parents
and grandparents in their Adirondack chairs,
on an elm-arched avenue in East Aurora, the sparkle
of their laughing faces leaning in, the glimmer
of their private language. On the lowest
porch step there’s my nine-year-old self in shorts and halter,
rubbing mosquito bites and watching this mysterious
business of being grown up.

The porch scene blurs into a constellation
of colors and sounds: plink of ice cubes, swish of liquid,
the chortle in Nana’s throat when she laughs
between closed lips to keep her false teeth from clicking.
My little sister in a ruffled sunsuit rides her tricycle up
and down the front walk, one of Nana’s hats on her head,
blue veil hiding her eyes, a silly feather poking northeast.
The laughter from the veranda pours out over my head
to the front yard. My little sister, white-gloved hands
on her trike handles, a Mona Lisa smile beneath the veil.
At four she’s figured out how to tantalize. I watch
the little girl on the stairs. Perspiration drips
from her hair. She scratches a mosquito bite
until it bleeds.

Elizabeth Volpe, a 2001 Pushcart Prize nominee, lives and teaches in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, California Quarterly, Peralta Press, Passager, Driftwood Review, Red River Review, Porcupine, Comstock Review, The MacGuffin, and Rattle. New work is forthcoming in Atlanta Review.