Daughter Playing Ophelia

by Brad Johnson

Since my son left for college I’ve traded
baseball bleachers for auditorium seating
and watched my daughter become Mary, Audrey,
Eliza Doolitle. Last night she was Ophelia.
Her long curls greasy. Her tulle gown ripping
along the pleats. She named each flower
the way her great-grandmother called
her children before dementia drowned
her memory. On stage my daughter glowed,
crowned by spotlights like an apparition of her mother.
Her hands moved like a fist of snakes
as she asked Hamlet to commit while Polonious
listened in the wings. Her face was hers
but changed. The rolled program dampened
in my grip and I wished she was an athlete
like her brother. A volleyball player. A swimmer.

I can’t be both mother and father to a daughter.

High school happens fast. Two weeks ago
she cried over nothing, asking me why I stared
at her before running to her room, turning
the music up. I stood in the hall thinking
of the name of the last boy to phone
asking for her. And now she’s Ophelia
rotting on stage in front of everyone.

This morning she was out of the house
before I started my coffee, just a trailing
good-bye and a slamming front door.
Out back, the lake is still as the dead.
Only a few ripples wrinkle its skin.
It means something different now.
I can’t say what. But all water does.


Brad Johnson is an associate professor at Palm Beach State College, FL, and has two chapbooks Void Where Prohibited and The Happiness Theory available at puddinghouse.com. His third chapbook Gasoline Rainbow is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Work of his has recently been accepted by The Jabberwock Review, The Madison Review, Natural Bridge, Steam Ticket, Willow Springs and others.