Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence



By Helen Conkling

Carolyn M. Rowe, my mother's youngest sister,
Better Dress Buyer for Klines, Minneapolis,
always stayed overnight at our house
on her way to New York.
Her room could be reached
by walking along the upstairs hall,
turning left, then climbing ten more steps
to where, now, it smelled good:
perfume, French, expensive.

I knocked on her door. She was tall,
with a slight cast to her eye – the right one
always a shade inward.
"Oh, it's you," her deep voice.
"Come in. And bring those flowers in with you.
Where did you find blue hydrangeas this time of year?"

Aunt of the portable, three-way,
dressing-table mirror and makeup case
containing scented jars, opaque bottles.
She was going out with friends.
A stir: she chose Capri Marine,
one of the iridescent shadows.
She chose Sienna lipstick, a red-gold shade.

Watching her, I realized
women can decide.

"I will have this," they say,
"but not that."

"I will go here and here,
and here, but not there."

Aunt of the bright green silk brocade dressing gown
and sparkling rings, she unwrapped a package
and after tossing cellophane and ribbons aside,
held aloft in her large hand, a gold container:
Bois des lles she said,
pouring out handfuls of the perfume,
and drenching me with it. I was drenched –
all down the front of my dress, even my shoes.
I didn't care. The smell made me hopeful, ambitious.
I thought of words I'd read in books:
Gainsay's favor, Interdict, Henceforth.

Someday, I too, would wear

silk brocade dressing gowns, best dresses,
and perfectly tailored coats. I, too,
would have a large supply of perfume,
boxed and stacked at home in my closet.
(Hers had been hoarded from before the war.)
And I'd have my own money,
and go where I pleased: Italy, France, New York.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Fall 1994), pp. 55-56


Helen Conkling is an American poet. Her work has appeared in the Antioch Review, Georgia Review, the Hudson Review, Chicago Review, the Ohio Review, and Prairie Schooner.

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