Meeting Aunt Ovidia at Union Station, 1944

A sailor, a white-hat like my Uncle Hank,
hugs a woman so tight I can't see daylight
between them. His hands climb her back, lift
her flimsy skirt, show straight-seamed nylons
clipped to garters on a girdle, like the ones
in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue in Uncle
Melvin's outhouse on the Estacada farm.

A Marine with rows of ribbons on his chest
grabs a woman with an upswept hair-do
and sweeps her off her feet, setting off squeals
that pierce the hubbub like an air raid siren.
She swings bare legs, longer than I am tall
between pink-pantied bottom and rolled-down
bobby sox, and wraps them around his waist.

A blue balloon, left over from some welcome
home, hovers in the haze midway between tile
floor and vaulted ceiling, wrinkled like a prune,
the string too high for me to reach. Headlines
at the blind man's news and tobacco stand
shout how well the war in Europe is going,
how the boys should all be home by Christmas.

When Aunt Ovidia's train finally arrives, Nana
will lead me through the gray doors with chips
showing six or seven shades of layered paint,
grimy window panes inset with chicken wire,
brightwork polished by a million hands, along
the platform where green baggage carts weave
in and out, to greet her in a great hiss of steam.

Nana talks about how Ovidia, prettiest among
the seven sisters, envy of all the wallflowers,
kept a dozen suitors dangling like ripe plums
until one by one they dropped. She wed too late
to have children. Gedward died in the pandemic.
Now she makes the rounds by rail, visiting kin
for a month, so as not to wear thin her invitation.

She carries what little is left of her life packed
in a pair of steamer trunks. Lace collars, kid
gloves, high-button shoes, hats with black veils.
The train stops. Steps drop. Nana, hands dead
ahead as in prayer, plows like a cowcatcher
through the chaos of carts and porters. In a great
hiss of steam, I feel a prickly peck on my cheek.

[First published in Windfall, Fall 2007]