Priscilla Atkins • Reflections on a Childhood Idol

She was the self-appointed
neighborhood drama queen,
director and star
of every backyard show;
early summer mornings,
we were a coterie of ladies-in-waiting
holding vigil
outside her parents’ backdoor.

For her, I eagerly practiced
my one line in Heidi –
“Miss Rottenmeier, she’s here!” –
over and over
in front of the bathroom mirror.
Messenger angels
in the Christmas tableau,
dwarves to her Snow White –
we played all the bit parts.

Until her season closed
and clothesline curtains
and Kleenex carnations
gave way to bras and boyfriends.
Now when we knocked,
her less glamorous younger
sister ran interference:
“She’s busy,” “She’s on the
phone,” “She has plans.”

For several years,
we had to settle for the ersatz
glamour of art classes
and music lessons,
punctuated by rare sightings
of a pubescent Cleopatra
reveling in the power
of her thick black hair.

At seventeen, she flew off
to France
as an exchange student
and never came back.
News floated down the street:
an illegitimate child,
a job in a metro station,
a small apartment
on the Left Bank.
(stanza break)

I thought it all sounded so romantic
and dangerous –
her best role to date.
Till years later I learned
how cold a Paris winter can be,
how people sometimes huddle
in the shops all day long
trying to stay warm.