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Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, semifinalist
Empty beer cans roll around her flip-flops
as unfinished sips splash her small toes.
Sitting beside his little girl, sharing the back seat,
he belches, “Hon—I gotta pee”
to his wife as she steers past signs of towns
blurring by her white Plymouth Valiant.
The family dog’s head hangs out the window
lapping up flowing currents of air;
his panting tongue, dripping with drool, flaps
like a pink sail in the wind. Large paws
with razor-sharp nails bite the upholstery, sometimes
striking her thighs where her shorts don’t reach.
His voice bursts from held in pain, “Hon—I gotta pee.”
Grandma, a passenger in the front seat,
sits steaming beside an extra-large stockpot
hauled along to cook “Live Crabs” in.
She shouts, “Samsy, tie it in a damn knot.
We can’t keep stopping every 20 minutes.”
The wife gives in pulling onto a gravel lot.
He disappears behind the door of “Joe’s Bar.”
Grandma says, “He’s just like your father.”
The wife pulls hard on the door’s handle and says,
“Skipper, come on. Let’s go for a walk”
yanking the dog’s leashed neck.
A quick voice jumps out: “Can I come too?”
Joining hands, they walk toward weeds.
The dog lifts his leg. With the leash lassoed
around the fender, Skipper anchors on the ground.
Grandma drifts away as July’s rising tide
of heat engulfs the Valiant. Doors wide open,
windows all rolled down, and legs sticking
to red vinyl, mother’s “abracadabra”
turns car into boat. Squirmy giggles ripple
through calm waters. Mother deals seven cards
guiding the way through “Go Fish.” A winning smile,
curved like a hook, baits her mother’s stare
as she counts and shouts, “I have the most pairs.”
Losing with grace, the mother fans her sweat
beaded face with a fistful of cards evenly spaced
in her losing hand. He reappears, dealer’s choice,
casting a long shadow, staggering toward them.
Fresh white foam from the beer’s head sticks
to his mustache above his glassy grin. Grandma
wakes, rocks the boat, whitecaps swell as she yells,
“Samsy, what took you so long? It’s as hot as hell in this car.”
“Oh Ma…cool… down. This… is… my va-ca-sh...in.”
They travel toward the sea. Mirages of water
dance on the highway in front of her eyes.
Smell of beer everywhere.
Diane Sahms-Guarnieri has lived in Philadelphia most of her life. She won the Judith Stark Prize in poetry. She is a certified high school English teacher and mother of three. Her poems have appeared in Limited Editions, Folio, Mad Poets Review, Creative Communications, and Philadelphia Stories (12/10/04)
She is a member of "Suppose an Eyes" Poetry Group that meets at the Kelly Writers House on the University of Pennsylvania's campus and runs a poetry workshop in Center City Philadelphia at the Voices and Vision Bookstore.