Penny Perry
  • Penny Perry
  • Three days after my mother died,
  • her hollyhocks tumbled down
  • under their own weight. My father disappeared.
  • I had eaten the last
  • of her meatloaf wrapped in wax paper.
  • She had waved me out of her kitchen.
  • “No need to learn to cook. You’ll be
  • a professor.” She ground her own meat,
  • the red strings wriggling like worms.
  • Though I only had my learner’s permit,
  • I drove her old Plymouth to the store.
  • There were whole aisles in Safeway
  • she never went down. That first day I bought
  • Bird’s Eye frozen broccoli,
  • macaroni and cheese. The mothers
  • of my friends told their daughters,
  • “Stay away from her. Who knows
  • what’s going on in that house?
  • Parties. Boys.” There were no parties.
  • No boys. Nights, I was so lonesome I would call Time
  • to hear a lady say it is three-oh-three.
  • I made Jello and Swanson’s turkey dinners.
  • I asked the gym teacher, perky Miss Butler,
  • a woman whom a month before I would never
  • have talked to, about salads. Miss Butler
  • coached the girls’ marching drill team.
  • She told me she had polio as a child.
  • People could survive all sorts of things.
  • She said, “Wash the lettuce first.”
  • I fried hamburger meat, flames jumping
  • wildly under the iron skillet. A month later,
  • my father reappeared, moved us to a dingy
  • apartment across town. Nights, I would sit
  • in my mother’s car in front of our old house.
  • The new owner, a gardener, staked
  • my mother’s hollyhocks.
  • I couldn’t see the pale pink, ruby, and yellow
  • flowers in the dark. But I knew they were there.

Penny Perry has been widely published as a poet, most recently in Lilith and the San Diego Poetry Annual. Her fiction has appeared in Redbook and California Quarterly. She was the first woman admitted to the American Film Institute screenwriting program, and a film based on her script, A Berkeley Christmas, aired on PBS. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee in both fiction and poetry, she was born and raised in Santa Monica, the setting for her first collection of poetry, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage (Garden Oak Press, 2012). “Hollyhocks,” which appears in that collection, is reprinted by permission.


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