Addah Belle’s pocket watch stands open
on my desk like a sandwich board
I want to shrink down and crawl under it,
camping in my ticking tent. Constellations
and bug spray.
Addah Belle knew me. She could
look at me and tell my future. In her time
Addah Belle chose door number two
and taught at a girls’ finishing school,
finishing them off for the altar.
Retirement came abruptly. Bourbon and
ceremonies. The stillness of her room
in the farmhouse. And no Marian.
Two twin beds, like a dormitory, and her
married sister downstairs with grandkids on
I, her grand niece, tracked in
with pocket frogs, too-close best
friends and notebooks. She noticed.
Mom cut my unattended hair short.
Strangers took me for a boy. A boy
with notebooks. Listening to Auntie.
And the pocket watch tent would ticka tick,
flashlights and ghost stories on her desk while
she advised I could be a writer, plan a career.
In her time pocket watches were for men.
That might be how it came to her. Tom,
the last at bat who walked home
lost, wondering why she wouldn’t
marry him, why remaining at school with
Marian was preferable. The watch
forgotten on a wash stand, a library shelf,
a parlor bridge table. Tempus abire tibi est. [It’s time for you to go away]
The watch she kept and wound, for the sound.
I was a writer when she died. I was a lesbian
when I found her love letters. Her watch,
a flashlight and a tape measure in my drawer.
Tempus vitam regit. [Time rules life]