Mary Ardery

Runner-up, 2021 Joe Bolton Poetry Award

Twyckenham Notes
Issue Fourteen
Winter 2021-22

Baby Grand

There at the corner of Swain and University Streets,
the first house my parents owned was modest but
it had real hardwood floors. Only one living space
and they bought a used baby grand that dominated
the room, a piano they couldn’t play well enough
to justify its size. My mother began taking lessons.
In her teacher’s apartment, she felt nervous to play
for him the sonata she’d practiced alone all week,
so he’d walk into the kitchen and talk to his bird—
an open door between them while she struggled
to improve her grace notes’ agility. This was after
my father had quit then returned to law school
but before he started really drinking. Occasionally,
he came home in high spirits, rendered melodies
from memory. Heart and soul, I fell in love with you . . .
He got the good job at the respected law firm
but when they moved into their second house—
two stories with four bedrooms—they still sold
the baby grand. Had it all been wishful thinking?
Back then, I was a twinkle in the eye, a glimmer
on what you might call the horizon. I never saw
the piano, but it’s what I think of when I think
of newlyweds—a pleasing aesthetic that leaves you
wanting. A house filled not so much with music,
as the idea of it. 

The Newlyweds

We wake still to darkness
on a summer day of storms.

What little light slips in
falls gray across the bed.

July, two months married
and already I’ve punctured

my palm with a knife while
dislodging the pit from

an avocado. It wasn’t
a thrill. The blood

hesitated, then surged. You
pushed my hand beneath

the faucet as nausea rose
through my throat. I need

to lie down. All morning
my care was kept by you.

What would a psychic say?
A scar on my heartline.

I press the lump of hard
tissue just below. Will

it stay there forever?


In the outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky,
              my mother at 16 test rides a quarter horse.

Inside the barbed wire fence, she spurs
              the gentle giant into a canter then pulls

the reins into a trot. Her practiced hands
              hold the leather ropes with ease until

the horse bucks—spooked by what,
              we’ll never know—and my mother flies,

splays, lands on barbed wire, her upper right
              thigh ripped into a crimson spider-web.

Many times, I asked to hear how it happened.
              Something about my mother’s airborne body

I couldn’t get enough of. Maybe this time
              it wouldn’t end with barbed wire or blood.

Maybe this time my mother would flaunt
              her thin legs instead of wearing ruffled skirts

over swimsuits. She’d take us to the pool
              and show bare skin all the way to those

hips so narrow I struggled to comprehend
              how they bore my older sisters and me.

There are the scars three daughters gave her
              and then there are the scars

we demand, over and over, she relive.


Because of the house
where I grew up, I
will always worry
about too much
drinking. There’s a lens
in my mind, a filter
coloring your third
glass of red wine
a shade darker than it might
actually be. So I’m sorry
if my love for you
feels fickle or hypercritical.
I won’t call my fears
unfounded but I can choose
to remember: We have made it
this far. Look outside,
I tell myself, and there is
proof of your steady
devotion—the sunflowers
you resurrected despite
the late April snow. The vines
you pruned back when I
was afraid they’d strangle
the power lines. I am lucky.
Not least because of that
house where I was raised.
I saw two people make it work
come hell or highwater. Vodka
buried in a briefcase
or hidden in the linen closet.
Forgive me when my most
anxious days are also my harshest.
Whatever poor ways
I sometimes display it, know
that my love for you is chronic.
Not a disease but a habit
I never want to break.

MARY ARDERY is originally from Bloomington, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Missouri Review’s “Poem of the Week,” Fairy Tale ReviewPrairie SchoonerPoet Lore, Best New Poets 2021, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won an Academy of American Poets Prize. You can visit her at

Cover image by Lee Miller.
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