Portrait on the Lost Coast

 

Image: Scott A. Lukas

I bring a photo of myself, a past
haircut to a new stylist,
to show her what I’d like.
In it, my niece, six or seven,
sits beside me on a desolate beach, both
of us looking off toward the Mattole
River, its mouth on the Lost Coast.

We have the same big smile, a similar
shape to our lips, our hair the same
shade of brown, hers sun-bleached,
mine beginning to gray. “Is that your little girl?”
the stylist asks, for I had not
thought to explain. Before
I answer, in that pause that is
not even a pause,

I feel like I do when my niece
and I are out at the museum, or
a birthday lunch—when strangers
give us that smile, presuming I am Mom.
When I glimpse the unspoken approval
in a glance, someone’s tone, I feel
a sudden weight lifted, a weight
I never remember is there—

and a sense of ease that disappears
as quickly as it comes; it is as if
I had gone ahead and chosen what was expected
for me, what I had grown up expecting
of myself. And just as fleetingly—
like that day on the Lost Coast, jagged
shale, black sand, the camera angle
that lent itself to what likeness
my niece and I possess—I feel greater
than my share of credit for her grace, my share
of responsibility for who she may become.

First published in Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 53, No. 2, 2018, The Pennsylvania State
University, University Park, PA. Reprinted with permission.


Krista Lukas writes prose and poetry. Her essays, short stories, and interviews have been published in The Sun, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, and Los Angeles Review of Books. She is the author of a poetry collection, Fans of My Unconscious, poems from which have been selected for The Best American Poetry 2006 and The Writer’s Almanac.


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