Subterfuge ~ William Aarnes


After a sleep broken by dreams of fleeing

from infuriated siblings,


May wakes in a motel room

hoping the day will provide an occasion


for her using the word subterfuge.

She still has a day of driving alone


to join her sisters’ families at home

so, of course, rather than ordering


the mushroom omelet with toast ,

May could say to the waitress,


“I would like the subterfuge.”

Or she could protest the radio coverage


of the President’s economic policies

with “Subterfuge, nothing but subterfuge.”


Or, instead of using her credit card

when she stops for gas,


she could go in to the counter

and say, “Twenty bucks of regular subterfuge.”


But May’s saving the word as just right

for a few hours after she arrives.


May knows which of her five nieces

will hold back, seeming to study a rug,


while the rest of the family crowds the entry

to greet her late arrival with too-hearty hugs.


May knows she’ll be asked to add little

to the catching up at dinner


and she’ll be surprised

if this niece, sixteen, says anything at all.


May knows that later, when most are asleep 

she’ll find the niece alone in the den,


deep in the keen comfort of some thick novel.    

“Can we talk,” she’ll ask the girl,


“about why each of us thinks the family

a less than perfect subterfuge?”


She suspects the girl will look puzzled

and then whisper a perturbed “I’d rather read.”


But, hours of interstate still ahead,

May’s sure she’ll stay determined to ask.