Donna — Poetry by Susan Gunter

When I think about her

(which isn’t often any more)

I hear her jangling laugh

and see her brassy hair

twisted at the nape of her neck.

It’s not as though I didn’t care for her—

after all, she was my uncle’s wife.

But she was different from us Swedes.

Her maiden name was Kowalski—

I couldn’t spell it, or even say it.

We saw her father drunk every Friday night

standing in front of the Polish Club.

Every weekday afternoon

Donna pulled on white gloves

and drove the Ford to town.

She wandered through

the five and ten’s musty aisles,

her spiked heels tapping

on worn wooden floors.

Her lips shone bright red,

like a circus clown’s

or Marilyn Monroe’s.

I overheard my mother

whisper at the ice cream social

that Donna’s skirts

were too tight. Everyone else

must have thought so too,

because all the men watched her

when she walked down Main Street.

One night, when I was asleep

in my cousin Janie’s bedroom,

I woke to hear the screen door slam.

It was my uncle.

I heard him shouting at Donna,

but I couldn’t hear her answer.

What could she have said?

After all, she was Polish

and he grew up on Swede Hill.

I heard the sound of glass breaking,

and finally someone cried.

Was it my cousin, or me?

When she told us years later

she wished she had been a nun,

I didn’t believe her.

But now, when I think

of how it all ended,

my uncle dying of cirrhosis

at fifty and Donna dry-eyed

beside his bed, still

wearing that painted smile,

I think the silence of convents

might have healed her.

Susan Gunter has been published previously in small journals around the country; She is also a Henry James scholar with publications on the James family.


3 thoughts on “Donna — Poetry by Susan Gunter

  1. Susan, this is beautiful in its spare, simple language. The characterizations are pure and crystalline. I can see everything, imagine it all. Nicely done.


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