This story is paired with Chapter 4 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
Vaudeville faded. The pulse of the public pumped
toward the silver screen, and audiences wanted to be more
than entertained, they wanted to feel understood. They were
the Dorothy dreamers, the scarecrow farmers, and the tin man
factory workers. Life had something they sought.
What a beautiful encapsulation of America: the displaced,
strung up, and rusted stiff. My grandmother calls movies
the stories, and though her age keeps her from remembering them,
she is a time capsule of transition. Of afternoons
with curlers in her hair and the early dinner rush
for a table at the Polish Villa. Buffalo carries traces
of the America that was forged between the wars,
and the boom that followed. Empty black lung factories
and grain mills with stripped siding line the waterfront.
Some are repurposed, some are left to rot like animals
on the side of the road. These dormant rust belt structures
are faint reminders of a history of labor that found translation
in trenches. Alongside them is the mind of my grandmother,
in dissolve. After dinner, tonight’s televised story
is The Wizard of Oz. I watch her face as the tornado brings life
to Technicolor. Kansas to Oz. She doesn’t remember the tale of Dorothy
or why she is traveling through this strange land. Nor can she remember
which streets lead to the local grocery store. The conversation shifts
to the strength that has abandoned her. To her stalling memory
that forces her to repeat questions, her endless search for a break
in the static. When my father explains how it isn’t safe
for her to live alone anymore, she fights it and says
The only way I’m leaving this house is feet first.
She sits back and lifts her feet out of her slippers. She soothes them
on the cool linoleum floor. She braces for a sudden, unbearable weight.
Michael Sarnowski earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poetry has appeared in Potomac Review, Memoir Journal, Spry Literary Journal, and Foundling Review, among others. He has been a Visiting Writer-in-Residence at Kingston University London and a writing resident at the Vermont Studio Center.