Carlynn Thorsen Trout is a writer and academic advisor at the University of Missouri. She grew up just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, attended Macalester College where she majored in Religious Studies, and earned a Masters degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has two children and lives with her husband, Dennis, in Columbia, Missouri. “Head of Household,” is part of a longer poem about her grandmother that is entitled Ragnhild’s House.

 

 

Head of Household

Ragnhild keeps her husband
(Head of Household)
alive in a tarnished frame
set in a picture-easel throne
on an oak sideboard whose top ruined
from water rings and gravy drips
she hides with doilies, pretty doilies.

Carl Ingvall presides over every Sunday meal
Ragnhild serves in the dining room.

She picks me up to see
the man in the WWI uniform
with the fine and dandy grin.

I reach out to touch
my father’s father’s face
It feels cold and glassy.

“Where is he?” I want to know.
Ragnhild sighs.
Her pain is forty years old.
“In heaven,” she says with certainty
as if I know where
and what that is.

My finger traces the outline of his head
The square jaw and chin,
The wiggly ears and short-cropped hair.
I leave a path, a squiggly path, on the dusty pane.
I encircle him,
capture him,
put him in prison.

Ragnhild picks up the frame
with her free hand—her fourth finger is forever
bound in gold
She rubs the glass clean along her hip
over her flowered apron with the long tie
I love to pull and undo.

She lifts his face to her lips to kiss.
I want to kiss him, too.
She puts the frame to my lips.
I lick the glass and laugh.

Ragnhild wisks the frame away
puts me down on the floor
rubs the smudged glass clean again
returns her husband to the sideboard
beside the empty bowl of mashed potatoes,
the chicken carcass on a platter
puts him back in heaven
far from my reach.

I hear my father call my name.
I run to him
Bury my face in his warm chest.
“Now, now,” he says. “What’s this all about?”

I don’t know.
I don’t know yet.