Roan (looking at a photo of himself as a three-day old infant): So tiny, and so useless! (Age 8)
II. Salt and Pepper Summers
At any time of the day, from the eye of the wormhole,
her pillowy back to the room, head down washing dishes
Grandpa at the wooden table fiddling with the window fan,
pushing aside the mushroom curtains
her wavy salt and pepper bob turning to
comment or command
his weight spilling over a parlor chair,
the rat terrier licking his arm
her freckled olive cheek surfacing to the side like a swimmer,
dental work glinting through a light absent-minded laugh
her playboy sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off
his combed and greasy at-home haircut
reading glasses in their case on top of a folded newspaper
a 10 inch TV perched high on top of the floor cabinet
a soothing wildlife narrator portending a bloody kill
soap opera characters proclaiming their love
8 and 5 year-olds roaming in and out, down the street,
around the block, and back again
through space and time
[NaPoWriMos Day 9]
I. The Portal
I distinctly smelled my Grandmother’s kitchen from 800 miles and 30 years away.
It was 4am.
I was standing in the warm island of light around the stove
with a teapot as my witness,
waiting for water to boil.
I turned slowly, scanning the room,
not wanting to overly disturb the elixir of sense and memory,
lest it run away like a deer.
But it was everywhere and nowhere. My only clues –
a greasy, well-used cast-iron skillet,
a wet sponge marinating in soap and bits of food,
onions and potatoes sitting out on the counter,
cereals stored in mason jars,
wiped down countertops and a well-swept floor,
a trash bag tightly cinched, waiting to be put out.
I took it in the way you turn a delicacy over your tongue,
straining to identify its ingredients –
the moment itself a recipe for 2071 N. 19th Ave –
was she here, or was I there,
or was it that
I was her and she was me?
[NaPoWriMos Day 8]
My baby teeth were stolen my first week in Baltimore,
along with a couple of checks from my checkbook
and several pieces of sentimental jewelry,
most of it hidden in the crawl space above the bedroom closet
of my 4th floor apartment downtown.
I stood on my 1 chair and checked and re-checked the crawl space
feeling around with my hands
alternately swearing and sitting down in shock.
The little felt pouch in the shape of a tooth
with a fabric paint smiley face, a sewed-on snap, and a string for hanging
contained bone and memory and commitment –
stories of strings and doorknobs, the courage to pull, the taste of blood,
the excitement of quarters, a mother’s safe-keeping
across countless moves and marriages and divorces –
stolen by the loneliness that let in the thief.
I never saw those teeth again, but I found
a funky soul Polaroid from the 70s – 4 men and women in afros, vests, and
bell-bottoms, holding drinks and cigarettes and arms around each other.
The ratty stuffed mouse my father gave me –
the 1 artifact from that time –
never even made it up the stairs.
I wondered how long it sat
in the unlocked foyer
in the cardboard box my mother mailed
before someone spied it
that first month at 904 N. Charles.
I wondered where it was.
I never saw that mouse again, but I found
a liquor store with shopping carts where I could use my credit card.
I found the 1 basement convenient store willing to grant me cigarettes on IOU.
My son lost his first tooth on a sunny day in the suburbs.
I was there for the broccoli-crunching freak-out,
the readiness, hours later,
the dance for being a big boy,
the ritual sneaking into his room like a thief.
I studied that impossibly tiny bone, and
I lost some heartbeats thinking about the little white pouch in the shape of a tooth.
I found an old baby food jar for safe-keeping.
And I’m going to look for some felt.
[NaPoWriMos Day 7]
V. Diamond in the Rough
Wearing black-rimmed reading glasses to solve puzzles in the comics section of the paper.
Gnawing a pretzel rod between his crooked teeth, with Wiggles tucked inside his arm on the kitchen table.
Keeping a card table just for puzzles.
Being in love with his conversion van.
Getting out a bucket and a hose on a hot summer day.
Coming home with found objects the way a dog lays a dead squirrel at the door,
proud, victorious, eager to please, panting enthusiasm,
his gifts curiously underappreciated.
Playfully teasing us at the dinner table.
Asking us how we really were.
Wearing extra-large Velcro gym shoes from Wal-Mart.
Being there long after he wasn’t there
[NaPoWriMos Day 6]
IV. Sundry and Habit Forming Hobbies
By virtue of the city:
Pulling up to Palmer’s under the large, cursive neon
Gin and tonic with lime for Ed
Miller Lite for Molly in a 12 oz pilsner glass
Kiddie cocktails with maraschino cherries for the granddaughters
Swinging their feet at the bar stools
Fingers stained red by pistachio shells
Running to play tabletop shuffleboard
Television in the kitchen, in the living room, in the bedroom.
“Love, your program is on.”
A “why not waddaya say we” stop at Tomczak’s Tavern
Walking past the large fish mounted on faux wood paneling and
the three or four humpbacks at the bar
Bubble glass windows depreciating the bright 2pm sun
Gin and tonic with lime for Ed
Miller Lite for Molly in a 12 oz pilsner glass
Shirley Temples in glass cowboy boots for the granddaughters
A bowl of tootsie roll pops to choose from
Sharing a square cut pizza near the dartboard and jukebox
“At the Hop” for Grandma
“The Polka” for Grandpa
“Little Red Corvette” for the girls
goofing around on the white hexagonal floor tiles under a drop ceiling
picking at gum stuck under the dark brown tables and chairs
By virtue of the country:
Collecting and recycling aluminum cans
The invention of a special rod with a hook on the end
Going from dumpster to dumpster in a vintage white diesel Mercedes
scouting a 5 mile radius
Neighbors trained to toss their cans out the front door, knowing they would gone by morning
20 bags of crushed cans waiting for the price of aluminum to go up
The piercing crinkle of cans competing with the
piercing complaints about bugs and risk of heat stroke
Stumpy legs stubbornly completing their mission
The quest for cans interrupted by the quest for worms for fishing
Worms found easily enough in the yard
Economical and surprisingly rewarding
The invention of a 2×5’ worm box with a door and handle, buried in the ground
Scouting a 5 mile radius
abruptly pulling off to the side of the road, hustling over a ditch with a shovel
helping himself to local farmland
Desire for fishing and boating crowded out by lust for worms
Ditto on knocking walnuts out of trees
Shelling them for hours and days at the kitchen table
Bags and bags in the freezer
Molly’s blood pressure driven to new heights by cans and bugs and worms and pungent walnut casings
Unfortunate fender bender
“These young Bozos don’t know how to drive!”
Appearing before the judge
Sour white t-shirt, suspenders, and dirty flooded jeans
Did you have car insurance at the time of the accident, Mr. Belaski?
“I haven’t had car insurance for 15 years, and I’ve saved a hell of a lot of money!”
Scouting interrupted by scoundrels.
[NaPoWriMos Day 5]
III. Raging Sweet Tooth
Raging Sweet Tooth. What do you think about that – as an Indian name for Grandpa?
Think of all the Fudgsicles and half gallons of butter pecan and black walnut ice cream he ate, alone.
Remember how Grandma would whisper to us?
Heavens to Mergatroyd!
You should see how I have to hide things from him.
Or he’ll eat it ALL. In one sitting, mind you!
Yeah, I remember in the summer:
(the screen door slamming) GRANDMAAAA, the ICE CREAM MAN IS HERE!
And then Grandma digging in her change purse while ambling toward the utility room:
Ok Pumpkin, take the money for you, Angel, and Sugar. Here’s 50 cents for each o’ yous, and here’s a dollar for Grandpa’s Nestle Crunch bar. Buy two.
And think of all the times he pissed someone off. Raging Sweet Tooth
But Grandma, aka Amelia, aka Molly, aka Grandma Mushroom,
whose father was a Tarascan Indian from Mexico,
who bestowed nicknames on all family members,
chose to call him “Love.”
When she wasn’t yelling at him. Or insulting him. Telling him he was ugly.
When he wasn’t criticizing her idiosyncratic pronunciation,
rolling his eyes and barking from the other room,
(Molly, his name is Henry, not Hendry).
When she wasn’t complaining about the cans and jimmy-rigged repairs and broken sugar bowls and the messes he made in the kitchen while making homemade noodles or perogies, flour everywhere.
Love, can you let Wiggles out to go pee-pee?
(passing the sugar bowl) Here Love.
Although he wasn’t blood, he was My Grandpa,
the only one I’d ever known for as long as I can remember.
And we were alike in some ways.
We both worshipped watermelon, especially the oblongs, best when halved and wrapped in plastic
and left to chill in the refrigerator for several hours on the hottest days.
One day I discovered one such watermelon on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
The trailer was quiet.
I admired both God’s creation and man’s intention.
I averred my Grandpa’s patience and restraint as a rare sighting.
And then I took a knife to that most juicy, pink, succulent, and seedless inner sanctum and
gorged myself on its heart like a helpless criminal.
When my Grandpa discovered the missing middle he roared in protest.
“YA VULTURE! You think you’re the only one who lives around here?!”
Raging Sweet Tooth.
It’s so perfect
he died eating a popsicle.
My cousin found him in his faded, oily, sour-smelling comfy chair,
raging heart at peace,
sweet tooth satisfied.
[NaPoWriMos Day 4]