My Mother’s Lost Boyfriend

My Mother’s Lost Boyfriend
By William Walsh

In a slightly faded photo from the ‘50s, my mother
and her sister are lying on over-sized towels at Lakewood Beach,
laughing to whoever’s standing behind the camera, silly girls
hamming it up, trying to be movie stars, like Lucille Ball
or Janet Leigh. Maybe it was a cute college boy vying for their attention,
I might never know. They are slightly more than teenagers,
radio beside them, a picnic basket,
a novel (Love is Eternal). It’s probably the summer
after their mother died, neither ready
for the working world or a husband
in the near future, a man to dictate her world change
to accommodate his. 

I wish I could rewrite my mother’s history
with that college boy to where he asks her to the movies
to see Sabrina then afterwards they drive around
Chautauqua Lake with the top down
on his uncle’s Hudson, the cool evening air
washing her hair in starlight. That evening
she would never step inside Johnnie’s Hideaway
for pizza with her girlfriends, would never meet my father,
his thick black hair, prep-school sophistication,
his only semester of dentistry under his belt.
I wonder what they said to each other—first, something
about mutual friends, did she think she’d go to college.
I’m sure she fell for him like so many other women over the years
who stopped to ask if he was Paul Newman. I can accept that—
had they never met, I wouldn’t have been born
nor would I be here to stop the cold winters
she endured with no money for groceries, stuck at home
with three kids, the long car trips
filled with cigarette smoke, his relatives
popping in at dinner time, fifty-four years of TV sports. 

I keep thinking back to that college boy behind the camera
who finished his degree, moved away forever
to be invisible and began a different life
without my mother, with some other beautiful girl.
If he had just tried a little harder
he might have stepped out from behind the lens
and into her arms.  If only
I could have been the bouncer at Johnnie’s Hideaway
that night, stopped my mother
from entering that world.
If only I had given her a chance to reconsider
the options beyond good looks
and a sparkling laugh. If only
I could have been a mystic telling her future: go back home,
there’s a phone message
your father wrote down from a boy
wanting to see Creature from the Black Lagoon

William Walsh, the author of six books, is the director of the B.F.A. and M.F.A. programs at Reinhardt University. In 2019, his seventh book, a new collection of poems, Fly Fishing In Times Square, will be published by Cervena Barva Press (Boston), which recently won the Editors' Prize. His novels The Boomerang Mattress and Haircuts for the Dead were Finalists and Semi-Finalists in the William Faulkner Pirate Alley Prize. His work has appeared in many journals, including the AWP Chronicle, Five Points, The Georgia Review, James Dickey Review, The Kenyon Review, Literary Matters, Michigan Quarterly Review, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poets & Writers, Rattle, Shenandoah, and Valparaiso Poetry Review.