Spring 2011, Volume 10

Poetry by Antoinette Constable

House Rules

1.    First of all, never argue, even when you think you’re right. You’re just a kid.
       Never speak loudly. Better still, don’t speak at all. Pretend you’re mute.
       Bite your tongue if it helps, but keep quiet. So what if people think you’re dumb?
2.    Get rid of that striped pullover. Does you mother have no sense? Bright colors
       attract attention. Not exactly what we need, is it.
3.    You will not laugh out loud, smiles will do—or sing , or run ahead of a group.
       Or stand at the head of a line, or fool around, or fight, scream, or weep in public.
4.    Walk away from crowds, but do not walk alone, or someone will notice.
5.    Don’t make eye contact with strangers, especially strangers in uniforms. Never
       volunteer your new name to strangers. Or this address, of course. Be home on time.
       By the way, when you wash yourself, keep in mind that it’s your hands which
       need water. Not the soap. You’ll have a bath on Fridays, after Simone. Her
       bathwater should still be warm. I can’t afford to heat more water. No reading
       in bed. All windows must be totally dark all night long here too.
6.    Don’t stare. Don’t accept food of any kind from anyone. It’s only offered as a bribe.
       Better to go hungry.
7.    Walk with downcast eyes. Always. Watch at all times to see whether the street
       is blocked, or the block surrounded. Watch for slow cruising cars. Figure out
       where the exits are located in case you need to leave in a hurry, but for God’s sake,
       don’t ask to be shown. Do you understand? You can’t afford to ask.
8.    Never talk of injustice, even if you’re punished unfairly. Take your punishment,
       thanking the Lord God you received nothing worse.
9.    Don’t answer questions about your mother. Shrug. She abandoned you years ago.
       You never heard from her. Do I make myself clear? Your father was a soldier.
       He was killed in 1941. Erase your sisters from your mind. You don’t have any.
10.   Pretend you see and hear nothing when someone gets beaten or dragged away.
       Or both. All the more so if you know the person. Be deaf as well as dumb. Keep walking.
       By the way, don’t mope, or skip school, because I’ll find out. Remember that.
       Don’t ever raise your hand in class. Always be neat and polite. Do your homework
       properly, and on time. Simply behave like any normal child.

       That’s all. Do we understand each other? If you can do all this, you’ll be almost
       invisible. Then we might have a chance.



BIO: Born and raised in France, Antoinette Constable is a registered nurse with British and American nursing degrees, and also runs her own catering business. She has lived in the United States for many years, where she raised her four children as a single mother. Her hobbies include reading, writing literary critiques, spending time with her grandchildren, gardening, collecting copper items, cooking and creating new recipes.

Her work has won the PEN First Prize for Poetry, as well as the Ann Stanford Award from the University of Southern California, and it has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barnabe Mountain Review, Bay Area Poets Coalition, California Quarterly (CQ), The Chaffin Journal, Controlled Burn, Denver Metropolitan State Magazine, Foothill Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, The Healing Muse, Louisville Review, The Old Red Kimono, POEM, Psychological Perspectives, Southern Humanities Review, Unitarian Newsletter, and Unitarian Universalist Anthology. Her poem, "You Dream that the Word Hope Is Written on the Door," was published in the Anthology of Master Classes with David St. John in 2003, by Arctos Press. She was recently awarded a residency at Mesa Refuge, a prestigious writers' retreat near Oakland.