Posts Tagged ‘grandmother’

            for Merry

I loved to sit on that green and white swirled couch,

loved even more to sit on it with my grandmother.

Everything about her was soft. Her wrinkled hands,

her sagging face, her bosom-y body she was forever

trying to slim. Her voice was cloudlike. Her laughter,

fine gauze. And her eyes ever met me with silk-strong love.

Why do I always return to that one afternoon

when she let me sit beside her, reading her poem

after poem, as if she had no garden to tend, no meal

to make, no hymns to practice for Sunday’s service.

Forty years later, in my kitchen, I’m still with her on the couch,

hoping we’ll stay that way just a little longer.

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And usually, at some point

in the tree trimming, when the living room

is covered in twenty-year-old tissues

and my fingers are raw from the needles

and the rest of the family

has long since tired of the project,

around then, I start to wonder

what it’s really for, all this bustle

and embellishment and then,

like today, I’ll pick up an ornament—

say the one my grandmother made

from a metal cookie cutter trimmed

in blue ribbon and angel hair,

and inside it sleep two baby figurines,

a pink one for me, a blue for my brother—

and I am weeping,

remembering how I would stare at this ornament

as a child, how beautiful it was

dangling so high on the tree

where all the more delicate ornaments would go.

I was small then, but I knew

my grandmother made that ornament

with me in mind and I loved her for her thoughtfulness.

She is gone this year, and I marvel

at how present she is in this room

as I sing “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”

with Aaron Neville and remember singing

carols with her in the church loft,

her soprano warbling and true.

And I climb the ladder to hang

the ornament high on the tree,

where the more delicate ornaments go.

And suddenly I see it is my son and daughter

sleeping in that ornament,

there where I thought it was my brother and me.

And I think of my mother’s hands

all those years she hung that ornament

reverently, and how the spruce needles

would have pricked her, too, and I

sing with Aaron about peace to men on earth,

and some of that peace slips into me,

so silently, so silently.

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for Merry Stoll

wahtola - 02

After I learn that she died,

I go to the garden, grateful

that there are petunias,

cosmos and snapdragons

to plant. Salvia, pansies, and

verbena that will drape its purple

kindness down the sides

of the planter. I don’t

put on my gloves. I let my hands

enter the soil and feel

how good the earth is.

This is how I best remember her,

with a trowel or a scissors in her hand,

ready to transplant, to trim,

to harvest the blooms

into a bouquet for the altar

or table. Flowers hung

in her garage to dry. Flowers

in her bathrooms, her dining room,

her kitchen. It came easy to her,

which stem to place where.

Which color, which ribbon,

which grass, which vase.

She left beauty all over the place.

Once she sat with me

on her green and white couch,

and let me read her poems,

a whole book of them.

We sat there for hours,

and she listened and laughed

at Shel Silverstein’s antics,

and as I read, I felt like a flower,

like something just at the edge

of bloom. Her attention

made me beautiful.

Today, the garden is just starting

to find itself after winter. I cannot help

but weep into the holes I have dug.

It is tender, this moment, and fragile

this life. I feel like making wild pledges—

to honor her legacy—to find

and share beauty everywhere I go.

I feel determined to keep my word.

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            for Merry



Though she could barely carry

a conversation, she could still sing,

so I would sit by her nursing home bed

and sing Moon River and her eyes

might not even open, but

her lips would start to move,

wider than a mile, I’m crossing

you in style someday.

Her voice was wobbly, perhaps,

but her notes were true,

and she’d smile as she sang.

Old dream maker, you

heart breaker, wherever you’re goin’,

I’m goin’ your way.

She’d been nowhere but

this bed for years,

but I could see behind her eyes

she was aiming toward some

imperceptible future,

a drifter, off to see the world

beyond this one.

And I would hold her hand

and she would squeeze it.

If she could hear the tears

in my voice, she didn’t say so.

We’d sung together since I was a girl,

show tunes in her kitchen

and hymns from the choir loft in the church.

Her soprano, a beacon of my childhood.

Now, in a room far from her,

I light a candle as she drifts away,

and sing as if she could hear me,

there’s such a lot of world to see,

my voice cloudy, as if any moment

it might start to rain and that

rainbow’s end might appear,

and for a moment, we could

look at it together before

she goes around the bend, alone.


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            recite this aloud, please, for Mimi, for Vivi, for me




Mama, she says,

can we waltz?

and we do,

we step one

two, three, one,

two three cross-

ing the room,

and again

I am five

and my grand-

ma and I

are alone

in the house

and my feet

are on hers

and we’re danc-

ing around

and she hums

with the ra-

dio, hums

with low light,

and we waltz,

and we waltz

there’s a blaze

in her eyes

as we one,

two three, oh

how I miss

her tonight.


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Last night while I was washing dishes,
I said to my daughter, “How do you like them apples?”
and she said, “What does that mean?”
which means she never knew you.
Funny how when I said it, I heard your voice,
not my own.
I told her, “Oh, that’s something my grandma
used to say. It just means, How do you like that?”

I didn’t cry then, thinking of how you never met,
but I did cry about it later. She wears your name,
just as I do, you know. Rose. There is sorrow and honor
in that one long-stemmed syllable.

I know you would love her.
She likes to dress up, even wears the shiny blue sparkling
clip on earrings I saved from you. Someday
perhaps, when she is a mother,
standing beside the kitchen sink,
her hands warm with soapy water,
she’ll be telling a story and finish it up with
“How do you like them apples?”

And if her child looks at her
in that curious way, she’ll reply,
“It’s just something my mother used to say.”


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For millions of years, the river has surged
through the canyon. But in the ninety years
since my grandma was born, only once

did we find ourselves together on the water,
our feet dangling from the black rubber tubes,
the current pulling us through the ancient rock walls.

We did not notice the history around us, nor how
this day would become our history. We noticed
the chill, the white spray of the shallow rapid ahead,

the bump of the smooth river rocks on our bums,
the small gray dippers slipping beneath the surface.
How could we have known then that this

would be our last time, even though it was the first?
We were untethered, free floating, no thought
of the future, no thought of the past, curious only

about who floated faster and who laughed loudest.
We paddled with our hands and promised
not to splash each other, though we did anyway.

And we made up songs along the way.
It was that kind of day, the kind that seems
to wear in its folds the scent of forever.

Thirty years later, steeped in winter,
though forever is lost something returns—
a scrap of tune, a quickening of the breath,

my grandmother’s face still so full of life,
the black tube absorbing and giving back
the warmth of that old, old light.

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She slumps at the table. It is shiny,
and like everything else here, it looks new,
everything else except the bodies, gnarled
and sloppy, hunched in and frail.
I cry in an instant, when, from across the room,
I see her, her face sunken,
her eyes closed, as if she is dreaming
she is somewhere else, beyond this room
with its scent of cabbage and medicine.
I do not want her to see me cry, but I walk
toward her table as fast as I dare, coming
to stand behind her wheelchair and kissing her on the head.
I say her name, I say it soft as the kiss that lands
in her short white hair. I say it soft as if the syllables
will break, or perhaps as if I will break in the speaking
of them. I tell her my name, not sure she’ll remember it.
Please, don’t let her see me cry. She opens
her eyes and finds me, and though English
does not have an elative case, we translate
with our eyes. She says my name, with what?
Surprise? And her signature gratitude. I notice her hands,
swollen and blue. And I kiss her head. And I kiss
her lips. Perhaps words will come later. I kiss her again.

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