Mona’s House

by Christy Prahl

Jesus lived on candles in her living room.
Baby with a man’s face, swaddled.
Golden halo around the brown hair of a prophet
like the sun clock in the kitchen
that seemed to tick backwards
from the hour we could leave.

We, my sister and I, feared the candles
and the woman who set them on fire
for our visits, who made us pray before
a snack of graham crackers and orange punch.

We, my sister and I, quilted ourselves
small to disappearing,
seeking refuge on our mother’s lap,
wishing we could crawl into the pocket
of her shirt, hiding
until she jangled the keys.

Our grandmother had the beard of
a billy goat and a husband
who’d died young of lung disease.

She loved you most when you were far away
and couldn’t hurt her twice.

She once surprised us with a song
about a farm woman using clothespins
to turn her skirts into slacks.
We laughed until she said Be quiet!
and we realized the song
wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Her candles looked down at us
from the mantle, a platform
for Jesus on the cross
and photos of her nephews in uniform,
sporting boys stationed
on the other side of the globe.

They wrote letters
in practiced ink to their aunt,
who preferred boys to
my sister and me, two clinging girls
who didn’t understand guns,
or baseball,
or service,
who hated the unvarnished smell of this house.

It smells of old cheese,
we said.
Of morning breath.
Our mother smacked our mouths for insolence
and insisted we come once a month
to visit the woman who raised her alone.

Our grandmother had a French poodle named Pierre
who curled up beside you but bit
when you pet him in the wrong spot.
His entire body
was the wrong spot
most days.

Christy Prahl is the author of the collection We Are Reckless, forthcoming in 2023 from Cornerstone Press. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, her past and future publications include the Eastern Iowa Review, Peatsmoke Journal, Passengers Journal, West Trestle Review and others. She has held residencies at both Ragdale and the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow and is the founder of the PenRF reading series. She splits her time between Chicago and rural Michigan and appreciates subways and siloes in equal measure. More of her work can be found at

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