It was strawberry-lime wine you gave me,
Claiming that it was light and mostly sugar
so it canceled out the fact that I was underage.
You drove with your beer bottle squeezed between
denim thighs and told me that you had lived here once,
this one-room cabin in the woods we were rattling toward,
in between men, when you didn’t have two nickels
to put to your name.
The steel that normally stiffened your words
to thicken my skin had melted into a hitched waver.
The house didn’t have electricity, your kids had to play
on a plywood floor, toes and knees full of splinters,
and every night hunger and cold.
It was spring, the boughs dripping verdant,
and soon I was spinning with a lushness that felt like a foretelling:
this is how the world could be and would be from now on.
Wow, I said, I feel like I’m on Oprah, and you looked at me
for one long moment before you finally laughed.
As always, I found your hard face utterly becoming.
She said family was an unnecessary word,
that my father could be Tom, Dick, or Harry –
but not her brother. We stood in her front yard,
both overdressed, too fancy for just standing
around. Sure, I said, and unknotted my fingers,
stilled my twisting heel that was digging divots
into the ground. Back then I was always trying
to adopt her queen-like bearing as my own,
but her words made my practiced emulation
feel futile and suddenly so very foolish. Sure,
I said again, as if acknowledging my wasted
effort, and turned from her towards her fence
of peonies, one wall of moon-sized blossoms,
displaced tubers from Indonesia that had
sprung up as orphans in the cold Maine soil.
Shauna Shiff is an English teacher in Virginia, a mother, wife, and textiles artist. Her poems and short stories can be found in Stoneboat Literary Journal, Atticus Review, Cold Mountain Review, Green Ink Poetry, Cola and upcoming in others. In 2022, she was nominated for Best of the Net.