By Katherine Gotthardt

In the dream, my bed is cemented in a storefront,
and I, no control over window treatments or shades,
curl in the corner of strangers’ eyes, try to sleep. 
When I wake, I wonder what that was all about.
Was it because I furniture shopped with my adult daughter 
last week? Checked out suits in the strip mall,
wondering who left greasy prints on the glass,
and were the cashiers earning more than minimum wage?
I know I’ve earned less in my life, and wiping dirt
from the world was exhausting. Someone smeared 
bathroom walls with lipstick, hoping it looked like blood.
Oh, wasn’t that a hoot? We were grateful it was only makeup.
Another moved the female mannequin, this time to men’s, 
repositioning it with a second dummy, lewd display 
of lowbrow humor. Okay, maybe that was a little funny –
until the boss accused us, threatening our scant paychecks,
demanding to know the culprit until we caved,
pointing fingers to save our crowded apartments.
The least popular, Irene, was let go. Unable to live 
on Social Security, she nested in my long-term memory, 
bits of rag and plastic grocery bags. Nothing worth recycling. 
I used to believe if I bought enough, 
I’d have something to give my kids when I died, 
something like a legacy. But my mattress came
from Salvation Army, my desk from my childhood home, 
living room loveseat moved from address to address 
until I found a place with room for a crib –
wide hallway, just enough space for me to pass. 
I painted the cracked slats with primary colors, 
bought a mobile of musical fish. To a warbled tune,
they circled the face of my infant, she, bewildered 
at being brought into consciousness, not that fish could fly. 
Paying for groceries, her in the secondhand car seat, 
I wondered if she was ogled, or was it me, 
shuffling worn food stamps. I never could figure them out, 
self conscious as I was, sweating under heat of judgment, 
holding up the line. Returning to my rusty car was a relief. 
Home again, I carried my baby and milk up in the same hand,
keys chattering against cans of formula, dropped bundles
as I fumbled at the loose lock someone had jimmied before.
See, nothing is private when you’re poor. It’s no wonder I dream
of storefronts. No wonder the thick miasma of insecurity
follows me. No wonder I buy more, tip big, pick up trash 
in public restrooms. Clean counters splashed with thoughtlessness. 
I wash my hands with borrowed water. Dry them in the mouth 
of powerful air. Rub them pink in anxiety. Exit back into the present.   

Katherine Gotthardt

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, M.Ed., writing concentration, hails from the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area. She considers herself a writer by nature and by trade, having begun writing for fun as soon as her mother helped teach her to read. An active part of the literary community, Katherine is current president and a founding member of Write by the Rails (WbtR), the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. Katherine has been a Prince William County Poet Laureate nominee and was the winner of Inside Nova’s 2019 and 2020 Best of Prince William award in the category of author. Her poetry and prose book Get Happy, Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Katherine's children’s book, A Crane Named Steve, hit number one in its category on Amazon in 2019. Katherine then took first place in the free verse category of Loudoun County Library Foundation’s 2020 Rhyme On poetry contest for her piece "Discussion Topic." The Prince William Arts Council and Poet Laureate Circle awarded her the 2020 Outstanding Poetry Project Award for her leadership in Write by the Rails' Poems Around Town poetry installation. In 2021 Katherine earned second place for "Aftermath" in a Poetry Society of Virginia national contest and the regional Seefeldt Award for Arts Excellence in the category of Individual Artist. She won first place in the Virginia Writers Club statewide Golden Nib contest in the poetry category for her poem "Kayak." While Katherine is well-known for her poetry, she also has established a solid reputation for writing articles, columns and short fiction. She is a full-time marketing writer for a government contracting company and is published in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has authored nine books: Poems from the Battlefield, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, Approaching Felonias Park, Weaker Than Water, Bury Me Under a Lilac, Late April, A Crane Named Steve, Get Happy, Dammit and D.C. Ekphrastic: Crisis of Faith.
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