Don’t Expect Applause by Ellen Bass
And yet, wouldn’t it be welcome At the end of the each ordinary day? The audience could be small, the theater modest, Folding chairs in the church basement would do, Just a short, earnest burst of applause That you got up that morning And one way or another you made it through the day You soaked up in the steaming shower Drank your Starbucks in the car And let the guy with the windex wipe your windshield At the long red light at broad street. . . Or you kissed your wife as she hurried out the door, Even though you were pretty sure she was meeting her lover At the flamingo motel, Even though you wanted to grab her by a hank of her sleek hair. Even if you weren’t good, if you yelled at your kid Poisoned the ants, drank too much, And said that really stupid thing you promised yourself you wouldn’t say. Even if you don’t deserve it.
This is one of my favorite poems and the following piece of FLASH FICTION is inspired by it:
How about a little applause she asked the velvety green of the grass as she ran, as if challenging the wind? Even though my pain is my own story. Even though caring for Ma is my own burden to bear.
To rouse her in the morning. Every morning. Prop her on the pillows. Clean her bedpan. (Ewwww. Wasn't that something I thought I had forever left behind after I'd raised my own two kids from birth to coming-of-age?) Feed her the mushy beans and potatoes, the texture again familiar yet distant, like that of baby food. Clean the tiny dribble on the side of her mouth. Make her comfortable between the bouts of pain that pulse in the bones of her aged face. Read to her if I have a moment. Put on the TV and tune the satellite channel to a Bollywood soap opera, if not;
So, it is simply my own pain, she laments, because my brother is useless. But, how is it my sole cross to bear when Ma has a son? she asks the solitude of the forest as she runs. The son she prayed to Surya, the Sun God, to deliver to her; Who'd look after her in her old age; sustain her limbs with his manly vigor. Where is he now, Ma? Huddled in the cosy corners of his wife's starry blue sari? Rendered spineless by the daunting red dot in the center of her forehead? Don't you get it, Ma?
Finally, it's the girl child you didn't want; the one you would have happily aborted but for some Hindu mumbo-jumbo, some religious taboo or fear who turned out to be your rescuer. Yes, a little applause sounds good. A lot of applause sounds even better.
Even though my love for you and my pain of how little it was acknowledged may be my own story. It may be singular, but it will be known to you. So that by the end You will think no, you will understand that it was all the time words that you, yourself, out of your heart had been saying. The four little words that I would die to hear, "thank you, my daughter."