Summer circa 1967-2xxx

My mother & the other ladies
lie prone in plastic
yellow and green lounge chairs
on our front lawn.
Tin foil reflectors emanate
from their necks like limbs.
Baby oil–smeared on their faces
and arms. They glow, glow, glow
in the humid sun.

They drink iced tea with lemon
and they don’t work.
Doris, Sandy, Muriel, Peggy, Mildred.
They glow, glow, glow
in the humid sun.

In Ventnor, I lie
with my mother and Aunt Lilly
on the hot freckles
of sand. My skin fries
to a lean red, like the hard
shell of a lobster.
My eyes puff up, nearly pasted shut.
Mom places tea bags on my crusted eyes,
sprays Solarcain on my burnt skin.

“A sunburn will turn to tan
the next day,” she counsels
me and herself; her skin,
leathery and lined before
she is 40. She still glows in the humid sun.

When the glow fades,
her skin, leathery and lined,
sags; her hunched shoulders
nearly hide her neck.

She visits me in Brooklyn,
walking slowly, tentatively,
through my neighborhood
without lawns or lawn chairs;
just a park where women, drenched in SPF 50,
sunbathe in the path of soccer balls.

She is wearing a baby-blue cardigan
buttoned up like a shirt.
The skin in the middle of her body
is still forgiving and supple,
with no lasting
exposure from the sun.

In the natural light
of my living room,
I examine her chin
to find three stray
dark hairs, dangling,
which I snip, snip, snip.

I have her knees, knobby and square;
and her skin, fair and raw
like the white meat of an apple
with a peel-able red casing.

I stay out of direct sunlight,
no longer believing that burnt skin
turns to a sylphlike tan.
Between suburb and city
lies a geography that we barely acknowledge.

 

 

 

Jo-Ann Mort is a poet and writer who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though she is a frequent traveler, especially to Israel and its neighbors. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, her poetry has appeared in Stand, Pequod, The Jewish Quarterly, Social Text and elsewhere. Her journalism and analysis have appeared in Haaretz, Foreign Policy, Dissent (where she is also a member of the editorial board), The Chicago Tribune, The Nation, The American Prospect, and other publications. She is co-author of a book about the kibbutzim in Israel published by Cornell U. Press. She tweets at @ChangeCommNYC.

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