Laurel Mills of Neenah is the author of five award-winning collections of poetry, including Hidden Seed which won the Posner Poetry Award, and Rumor of Hope which won the Encircle Publications chapbook contest. Both of these books are about her daughter, Beth, who has a rare genetic condition. Mills’ poems have been published in periodicals such as Ms. Magazine, Yankee, Calyx, Kalliope, and in several anthologies including Boomer Girls: Poems by Women from the Baby Boom Generation. She is Senior Lecturer Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, where she taught English and edited the literary magazine Fox Cry Review.
Work, Hers and Mine
I scour Lake Michigan for poems
while at school Beth learns work.
She didn't walk until she was three.
Now she carries newspapers to 63
houses, her hands black with ink.
The teacher dogs her tracks,
warning her to lift her head
at street corners.
I cross the sand, remember the year
she buried her beach ball and we dug
hole after hole searching for it.
She brings that same insistence
to scrubbing bathroom floors,
Once she sat for hours
and hurled stones into the lake,
leaving a bald place around her.
Now she sits and fits washers
on a wooden peg, collates pages.
These tasks are not too small.
When asked if she likes her jobs,
she says, "Yes, me no fired."
When the lake whispers do I love her,
I say, "Yes, I am proud."
I draw her name on the beach.
She painstakingly prints it
on the back of a check.
And this red stone at my feet
is my heart the lake tosses up to her.
The Imaginary Husband
The ring on her finger is the size of Texas, plastic,
red and blue, a lone star from the vending machine.
My wedding ring, she says. Bob, my husband.
When asked to give Bob’s last name,
she looks away and shrugs. I dunno.
Maybe this is her fantasy life: she has a dog
and two cats. The cats’ names are Fluffy and Nutty.
The dog is a Brittany spaniel and sleeps on their bed
at night near Bob’s feet. The dog stirs
when Bob shifts to wrap his arm around Beth.
When the sun comes up, Bob kisses Beth
on the fragile line of her collarbone.
He makes scrambled eggs with shredded
cheese and shallots; she makes cinnamon toast.
They eat on the front porch and wave
to the paper boy when he bicycles past.
All day at the sheltered workshop
Beth thinks of Bob and plans their supper.
They like to do the dishes together,
though they argue about who washes and who dries.
They tell about their day, all the little gossips.
Fluffy and Nutty meow around their legs, the dog
waits for a walk around the block when Bob and Beth
will “howdy” at neighbors. They take their coffee
to the little garden at the back of the house.
Bob nips the dried geranium; Beth pulls a thistle
from the nasturtiums. Curled on the brick patio,
dreaming of rabbits, the dog farts in his sleep.
This is the story of their life together, the story of
Mr. and Mrs. I-Dunno and their very ordinary days.