by Marylou Kelly Streznewski
Bordentown, New Jersey 2002
It is a hot New Jersey June. We sit,
Mother and I, with our notebooks,
listening to the tree-muffled roar
of semis groaning up the Interstate.
Up here on the bluff we see only
the far bank, a marsh misty in summer
haze despite a leaf-rippling breeze
through the shade of two ancient maples.
Out along the Delaware’s edge, the
Crosswicks Creek Marina shelters boats.
The once-a-day train to Camden
rattles by below us.
The traffic drones on as we write,
each in the cell of her book.
Mine is practical black, littered with clips.
Hers a merry red plaid, a gift she says,
from someone who understands that
confusion be damned, she still writes at 95.
Antique railings in geometric iron
separate this Victorian house from a green
strip of public park. The gate sags open,
the gray slate slabs of the walk bump,
lurch toward the steps.
Shaggy grass, faded lawn, part weeds,
bespeaks the casual neglect of rented space.
Mother’s elegant first floor includes this porch.
Tall posts, half blue, half cream create
our gray-floored gallery, improved
by potted ferns the upstairs tenant waters
with great care. Her once proud family
built this mansion. She has lived
to see it sold to strangers. She rents
the room where she was born.
Sitting with us, I can see, in their high-backed
wicker chairs, the ghosts of Victorian women
who lived in this house, their long skirts,
piled hair, tight corsets, hot cotton stockings,
high button shoes. Locked in their place in the home,
they cooked the meals, birthed the babies.
No antibiotics, not even the vote.
A life span of forty, if they were lucky.
No matter how rich,
they could not sit on this porch as we do ––
in sandals and slacks, bared feet and short hair,
no hairpins to poke us; eyeglasses to clear
the blurred trees by the creek.
Only rebellious or mad could they think
the free thoughts we accept as our due;
we women who sit on Victorian porches
in summer and write what we please.
Marylou Kelly Streznewski’s career has included theater, journalism, and teaching writing in a variety of venues from high school to college to adult education; as well as free-lance work in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her articles have appeared in various Delaware Valley magazines and newspapers. She grew up in Trenton, attended the College of New Jersey, and taught at the then Lawrence Township Junior High School for two years. She currently resides in Bucks County.