Barbara Westwood Diehl

On Not Drowning at a Family Reunion

I learned how much I didn’t want to die
at the annual picnic and pool party reunion
of my stepfather’s family in Rosedale

people I never saw any other day of the year
as if my mother and I were only allowed
to dip our toes into the shallow end

of lives of cousins who looked alike, drank Pabst
and Nehi grape out of a cooler, and kids
who cut their bare feet on the pull tabs

and banged screen doors and tracked blood
on the linoleum and orange shag rug
and spilled iodine on the bathmat

because nobody made them wear shoes
and nobody noticed which cans the kids grabbed
from the cooler or who was holding the baby

and when my mother in the sailor two-piece
that she never got wet because of her hairdo
laughed like I’d never heard her laugh anywhere else

and turned her back on me, I waded toward the deep
and away from the belly flops and cannonballs
of my stepfather and the cousins I couldn’t name

until the bottom dropped and the water pulled
me under and I fought, fought my way back
through a pool full of cousins and drunks

into any depth that wouldn’t drown me
while adults I didn’t know or love watched
from lawn chairs, eating hot dogs, and I knew

I could hold my breath through any reunions
my stepfather drove us to in Rosedale, knew I would
burst free, gasping, into breathable air.

I Wanted to Ride to Work in the Back of a Pickup Truck

like you
and I wanted to be a bricklayer like you

and swing a red Playmate cooler
with a tuna sandwich and two cans of Coors
onto the truck bed, hop in, and slam the tailgate closed

and have mortar in my hair and on my pants and know that
nobody in the truck gives a damn because
nobody looks any better

I wanted to sit with my legs spread on a rusted bed of burger wrappers
and Craftsman toolboxes and trowels and jointers
and bags of concrete mix and buckets

and laugh when Jimmy hits the brakes and makes me slam against the cab window
and all the bricklayers laugh along with me and we’re all
happy as a pig in mud

But I rode the MTA bus every day, for an hour and a half each way
with every window shut and usually some old man nodding off
on the padded shoulder of my pantsuit jacket

his nose in my neck, getting a good whiff of my Avon roll-on
and with every hard turn, usually some man mashing me hard
onto the side of the bus and that closed window

And there was that drunk who sat on the lap of a girl about my age
a receptionist, typist, transcriptionist, assistant to somebody probably
a girl who sits in place, legs closed

If I had had your red Playmate then, I would have swung it
upside his head, sent him flying across Greenmount Avenue like
something you’d do when you were drinking, and sometimes when you weren’t

With every turn of that bus, I wanted to flick
cigarette ashes and throw cups and wrappers out an open window

and yell fuck you and give everyone in the cars below
the finger and laugh so hard I almost piss myself

like a bricklayer rolling around a truck bed on a Friday afternoon
like you

Barbara Westwood Diehl is senior editor of The Baltimore Review. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of journals, including Quiddity, Potomac Review (Best of the 50), Measure, Little Patuxent Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Gargoyle, Superstition Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Atticus Review, The MacGuffin, The Shore, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Fractured Lit, South Florida Poetry Journal, Raleigh Review, Allium, and Five South. Also a poem in The TELEPHONE Project.