Donna Prinzmetal

At the Mahogany Table
by Donna Prinzmetal

My mother’s white arm fingers the silver bell,
her pale skin marked with brown spots.
My hand looks small next to hers.
Everyone is talking at once.
On my plate, the pink roast beef
swims in gravy. A half eaten popover
has melted the round scoop of butter.

Mother smells of Replique perfume and cigarettes.
I can’t stop looking at the yellow and brown cityscape—
my father’s painting—on the wall,
tall geometric shapes, oil smell.
The dining room echoes with voices,
645 Comstock in spring, the end of another school year,

almost. My sister Jan laughs too loud.
Debbie hasn’t changed her name yet.
Dad is at the other end, his voice so deep
it rumbles under my chair. “You need to pay attention
to the details,” he says. They are talking
about Debbie’s valedictorian speech. It’s 1967.

My white cardigan with the tiny fake pearl buttons
is too warm. I’m afraid I’ll get butter on the sleeves
so I take it off. My hair is short and still gold, but
it’s growing out and tickles my ears.

I am so used to this cacophony, everyone talking at once.
When a new voice, higher than I expect
rises with a kind of ping, I feel it in the back of my throat.
“What about starting with a list? All those science projects…”
I say, out loud, it seems. I don’t even believe it’s me.
I am thinking of ideas for her speech, but nobody
pays attention, except my oldest sister, Karen.
My blue eyes meet her brown ones.
“Wait,” she says in a voice of rare authority, “Donna said something,”
she emphasizes, though she couldn’t have heard exactly what.
There is a break in the clink of silver knives on white Wedgewood,
and the voices, the voices have all stopped.

There could be a floodlight bathing me
in a waterfall of white. I feel laid bare, naked, cold.
Gooseflesh rises on my arms
as they begin to clap. It is the first time
I have spoken at the dinner table

ever. I am eleven years old.
I want to hide in the kitchen
at the little kid’s table.
I want to pick up the gravy boat
and dive into it.

Everyone is looking at me.
I slip down in the stiff backed dining room chair.
My blue shift clings to my sticky thighs.

I have spoken. They know I can speak here.
There’s no going back now.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 4.

Donna PrinzmetalDonna Prinzmetal is a poet, psychotherapist and teacher. She often uses writing to facilitate restoration and healing in her psychotherapy practice. She is the recent recipient of the 2020 Lois Cranston Prize from Calyx Journal. Her first book, Snow White, When No One Was Looking, was published with CW Books in May of 2014.

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