Elizabeth I. Riseden ~ Seven Courses



A Child’s Christmas in Wales with Carols
drones through my portable radio’s headphones
this Christmas Eve, as I trudge up steep terrain.
They come to me—my mother’s family.
Adolph, suicide at eighteen. Motive mysterious,
though tied in family lore to Grandfather’s
silicosis death, his strangling on his work.
Desert mining’s harsh frontier challenges grandmother
and her four remaining children

The air refreshes. I fill my lungs. Fog abates. No wind.

Handel’s Messiah plays every year at my parents’.
Thirty people enjoy traditional seven course
banquets, beginning with crab cocktail.
Aunt Jen, my godmother, relishes crab.
Crippled, misshapen by rheumatoid arthritis,
her brilliant mind in age desperate to pass on
what she knows.

Poetry every Saturday.

Unto us a Child is born…
I am her child, she an old maid,
I her willing disciple.

Come unto me, all ye that labour, superb soprano solo.
Dinner continues with consomme.
Uncle John floats above my mind’s table,
suicide by alcohol. Richer than Croesus,
from post-war Cadillac / Buick sales.
He never thinks his career, begun at sixteen,
might grow him too fast.
He expresses only gratitude
to support his mother, four siblings through school,
mother-in-law, wife, daughter, when barely out of his teens.
A handsome gentleman, decked out in silk,
the best dove gray felt hats, diamonds,
gracefully inhaling Havana cheroots.
Meanwhile his liver shudders with the good times
benevolently bought for all.
Not an enemy in the world.

All we, like sheep, have gone astray.
Salad. Lime gelled with avocado,
celery and lemon juice. Crosses,
holly wreaths, stars, shiver on iceberg lettuce.

Stars beckon.

Uncle George, his once-hunter¹s hands quiver
with Guienne / Barre. Years of tremors,
alcoholic hell. Blows his brains out.
I can’t save him, though I can talk him up
from his store’s dark basement, where he hides and drinks,
drinks and hides, as fortunes pile up.

What we have is money.

Who may abide the day of His coming?
I grasp Handel’s hope.
The entree—pork roast.
Beloved, childlike Aunt Rosie.
Golden blond, much pampered, a baby.
She rebels at fifty-six, slashes her wrists,
dies twelve hours later—family
denies she’s tired of cheerleading.
Pork, her perfect accompaniment,
so choked is she in family fat.

The Hallelujah Chorus.

I stride down the hill. Tears flow.
We cleanse our palates with sorbet in champagne,
await dessert—plum pudding with hard sauce.
Mama. Years and years gone
since my brother’s death. How
fine you come during sweet dessert.
Couldn’t help you go away when I am eight,
flicker only intermittently thereafter.
Rich as hard sauce when there.
Otherwise, a plum crazy lady.
Perfectionist, OCD, scared to lose me.
Loving me as you can.
You squirrel pills
when anxiety sends you into care.
Ample and generous as pudding, you refuse to eat,
fall from starvation, don’t get up.

Music joy
feasts in sorrow.
multi-coursed life
I embrace you.


Elizabeth I. Riseden was retired from college teaching and living happily in Carson City, Nevada, when in April 2006 she became Danse Macabre’s first contributor with Seven Courses. With many wild things surrounding her and a backyard panorama view of the Sierra Nevadas, she wrote with passion, precision, and power, turning her sources of wonder into music of the highest order. Surrounded by her family, Liz passed some years ago. In celebration of our 100th issue, Danse Macabre remembers Liz and dedicates our second decade to her fond memory.


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