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Daughter Playing Ophelia

by Brad Johnson

  • Since my son left for college I’ve traded
  • baseball bleachers for auditorium seating
  • and watched my daughter become Mary, Audrey,
  • Eliza Doolitle. Last night she was Ophelia.
  • Her long curls greasy. Her tulle gown ripping
  • along the pleats. She named each flower
  • the way her great-grandmother called
  • her children before dementia drowned
  • her memory. On stage my daughter glowed,
  • crowned by spotlights like an apparition of her mother.
  • Her hands moved like a fist of snakes
  • as she asked Hamlet to commit while Polonious
  • listened in the wings. Her face was hers
  • but changed. The rolled program dampened
  • in my grip and I wished she was an athlete
  • like her brother. A volleyball player. A swimmer.
  • I can’t be both mother and father to a daughter.
  • High school happens fast. Two weeks ago
  • she cried over nothing, asking me why I stared
  • at her before running to her room, turning
  • the music up. I stood in the hall thinking
  • of the name of the last boy to phone
  • asking for her. And now she’s Ophelia
  • rotting on stage in front of everyone.
  • This morning she was out of the house
  • before I started my coffee, just a trailing
  • good-bye and a slamming front door.
  • Out back, the lake is still as the dead.
  • Only a few ripples wrinkle its skin.
  • It means something different now.
  • I can’t say what. But all water does.


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