Despairing of Grace

by J. C. Elkin

Uncle Ned drove round the lake that year—
blue Mustang, white seats, top down.
Aunt Em like a movie star,
the picture of style and grace,
Jeanne and I in back,
wind whipping our Hippie hair.

“Princess Grace summers here,” Em said.
“Maybe we’ll get to see her.”

Uncle Ned chuckled through his pipe.
“Her Serene Highness isn’t renting near us.”

“I know,” she said, like a child disbelieving.
“All the same, we’re so close. It could happen.”

She sent me for Jell-O one sluggish day,
a savage tan masking my dirt.
The storekeeper couldn’t be bothered with me
but curtsied when someone else came—

tall doll in white gloves, broad hat, cool shades,
and blinding white rosebud shirtwaist.

They chatted. I clutched a clammy bill.
They went in the back to meet her husband Jack.
The second hand swept the Coke clock five times
humming in tune with the fridge.
I wondered who could halt time with no cash
but dismissed her, as she had me.

That evening’s headline, the talk of the dock,
Princess Graces General Store.

Aunt Em, anguished, desperate to know,
“You were there. What was she like?
As gorgeous as they all say?”

“I guess she was pretty.” I wouldn’t say gorgeous.

She looked like a mom, a bit like Aunt Em
who now pawed her hair, mad with despair,
and made me shampoo mine that night.


J. C. Elkin is an optimist, linguist, and singer with a memory for minutiae. Her prose and poetry appear domestically and abroad in such publications as Kestrel, Angle, The Delmarva Review, and Steam Ticket. Her chapbook World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom (Apprentice House, 2014) is based on her experiences teaching English to adults from around the world. A native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, she has spent most of her adult life on the Chesapeake Bay.


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