In Mama’s nightmare, she’s young again.
Her wedding unfolds at the local McDonald’s
and the groom is her youngest brother
who carves a wizened pumpkin & mutters
his snot-nosed vows. Christmas lights spatter
the walls like buckshot. Her guests ransack
cornucopias and tear at glittered valentines—
they soap the windows: Happy Everything.
So much to celebrate: here is Mama’s horror.
She the decorator, the spiker of punches
and curler of ribbons. But when her hands petrify
into gloves of pain, it is not a dream.
The part where the parties end, where her husband
leaves and takes the guests, is not,
alas, the dream. She writes toasts for parlor ghosts
but thinks this is absurd: all the year’s eruptions
of joy and hello stuffed in one
dumb night. The terror is the awful party
inside the party—the one where no one’s left.
It’s not the lost house she fears, or its dining room
ablaze with brandy, the windows fogged
with a turkey’s steam. Instead she sweats
through the night under the threat
of unlicked invitations, missed buttons
at wedding feasts. Her bad dreams
are the sounds of no one
in her kitchen, neighbors potlucking
on her rotten deck, silent and swirling
their sangria, wishing its whirlpool
would drown them. When I told her
my young marriage was over, we were awake.
She could still taste the envelopes on her tongue.
Caitlin Cowan is a writer, arts facilitator, and editor born and raised in the Midwest. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Pleiades, Gulf Coast, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy, The Dallas Observer, and elsewhere. A semifinalist for the 2019 Boston Discovery Poetry Contest, she has been the winner of the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, the Mississippi Review Prize, and an Avery Hopwood Award. Her poem, “Flight Plan,” won the Fugue Poetry Prize judged by Ilya Kaminsky. Her work has also received support from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center. She holds a PhD, MFA, and BA in English and Creative Writing, and has taught writing at a selection of institutions that includes the University of North Texas, Texas Woman's University, and Interlochen Center for the Arts. In 2018, she accepted the position of Director of International Tours at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, where she played violin and traveled with the International Youth Symphony Orchestra in the early 2000s. You can find her at caitlincowan.com.