June 23, 2018: I discover one of my mother’s nightgowns buried in a plastic bag in the back of a closet when I’m packing to move. There’s a pair of shoes (black patent leather), a black and white polka dot skirt, and a white blouse in the bag too. They were all hers.
I pull out the nightgown. It’s soft in my hands. “Snuggly,” Mom would have said. I lift it up to my nose, inhale. It doesn’t smell like Mom. It smells like jail, even now, after two years. I hold it up in front of me, at arm’s-length. It’s white with light blue flowers, a round neck, white embroidery across the upper chest, and four white buttons down the middle. It’ll fit. I sleep in the buff, but I could wear it on winter mornings when I get out of bed.
I turn it around, see the small irregular holes at the shoulders, and a jagged line of haphazard stitches that close a tear about two inches long where it would have spanned Mom’s shoulder blades.
I take off my shirt, and slip the nightdress on. The institutional odour becomes stronger; I feel a little queasy. Then, unbidden, the first line of a poem speaks itself…
safety pins & call bells
safety pins & call bells
i put on your nightgown, the one with blue flowers
it reeks of the jail where top dogs love power
there are holes at the shoulders that safety pins tore
when you got up at night, and tried to walk out the door
but the pins were attached with chains to the wall
you pulled them so tight, they rang bells meant to call
someone might come, but not in time to prevent
the pins that weren’t safe from your dress to be rent
if ever they got there, you’d be out in the hall
they’d scold and admonish, say “you’re going to fall!”
“get back to bed, lie down, go to sleep!
out come the meds if i hear even a peep.”
i didn’t get then, what caused the holes in your clothes
seems neglect and abuse sported ribbons and bows
the flannel was stitched in the laundry below
nurses answered my questions with lies and “don’t know”
but the truth is revealed in weeks, months, and years
follows the light and the tracks of my tears
the pins ripped the fabric, and hastened the end
caused me to fight, and human rights to defend
now i slip on your nightgown, the one with the scars
and thank god you are free of the chains and the bars
©2018 Susan Macaulay. I invite you to share my poetry widely, but please do not reblog or copy and paste my poems into other social media without my permission. Thank you.