Although that extra door had long ago vanished into a wall when carpenters remodeled the kitchen for more counter space, I could still see through it between the balusters when I climbed the stairs. See my mother hold the knifepoint to her chest, hear my father’s pleading, feel my sister huddled beside me as we strained for the drama’s end. Always the same staging, the same agitated lines: our mother this, our father that, this-that, this-that. Once our father’s hand secured the knife, we’d scurry back to bed.
Perhaps our mother herself grew tired of the kitchen drama replayed so often, sensed the need for heightened suspense, a grander stage. Against a mountain backdrop on a family trip to Colorado, she walked from the motel onto the highway and stood in the spotlight at the center of three lanes, until our father ran out and pulled her to the median strip. My sister and I—the supporting cast that framed her scenes—watched from the curb, transfixed.
Two things she wanted among the left-behinds when her parents moved
from the family home of five decades: the 48-star flag they’d hung from
the porch on holidays; and the wooden knife holder that lived on the kitchen
wall, the painted decoration on its front so chipped and faded, it would be
hard for a stranger to decipher the red apple with green stem. She took both
home. Kept the flag properly folded triangular in a box in her closet. Kept the
knife holder upright on a shelf in her bedroom where she could see it when
she opened her eyes. See that it was empty. That no hand reached for the
knife hanging second from the right.
Susan Eisenberg is a poet, visual artist, and oral historian, who works within and across genres. Introduced to the craft of engaged poetry by Denise Levertov in the mid-1970s, her essay about that mentorship appears in Denise Levertov, In Company. Her newest poetry books are Stanley’s Girl (Cornell, 2018) and Perpetual Care (Third Rail, 2016); and, in nonfiction, We’ll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction, with a New Preface (Cornell, 2018). She is reinventing her 900-square-foot mixed-media installation about women in the skilled trades into an interactive virtual exhibition, On Equal Terms: gender & solidarity, launching June 2018. She is a Resident Artist/Scholar at the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center.