My father owned silence
The way seasons own the trees.
He avoided words,
Used looks, gestures, altered breathing
But nothing dramatic usually.
Emotion is what occurred
At other people’s houses.
I guess that’s why this clings like beggar lice:
After one of many long days when he missed supper
Working two jobs he finally sat down at 9
Before a plate that was four hours old.
I froze in disbelief in the doorway
When he threw a slice of mushy tomato
From his plate at my mother
Standing at the sink
Missed her and hit the just-ironed curtain.
Her stiff back a signboard of rage and hurt,
She didn’t even turn around,
The only sound the splashing of the dishwater
That hid her hands while he ate and
I backed away, backed away from them
Silent witness to their silent witness
The soft heart of the tomato
A blood red flag
By my mother’s head.
Rita Quillen lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia. Her most recent collection is Her Secret Dream (Wind Publications). Previous works are poetry collections October Dusk and Counting the Sums, as well as a book of essays, Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry. In 2013 her poetry received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination; she was a finalist for the Poet Laureate of Virginia 2012-14.