Letter to a Dead Grandmother
Before I forget again, let me say
that I remember the front hall
with the stag’s head watching over us.
And the enamel topped kitchen table.
I remember your lap, the porch,
the rocking chair with paint so thick
I etched my initials in it with my fingernails.
Summer evenings we watched barn swallows
diving and darting, and you and Aunt Grace sang
“Bye, Bye Blackbird” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Bedtime meant the door between my room
and the dining room left open because
I was afraid of the closet and a little bit scared
of the whippoorwill who sang every night
under my window. We never saw that bird.
The summer after first grade, I never
saw you again. Oh, Uncle George said
the thin woman in that high bed was you.
I didn’t believe him. Now I do. I’ve visited
the cemetery and seen your name on the stone.
In those seven years you mothered me, did you ever
resent raising another child? After all,
your youngest, Gracie, was ten the day I was born,
soon dropped into your lap when my mother vowed
she had to work and couldn’t watch me. She was right.
Not made for mothering small children, not like you.
Maybe she never noticed your hands as you made
jelly, lemon pies, mashed potatoes, tea with milk.
She drank coffee and smoked Pall Malls and married
four times. You were widowed early and never again
had the comfort of a man at your side. It wasn’t fair
that you had to suffer, never an easy day or
enough cash to shop anywhere but the IGA.
I know you’ll never read this. Writing to you now
cannot make up for my silence, or break open
the family secret that you were dying.
I was yanked away, sent off to the other grandparents,
who were good, but who cut off my braids,
and closed the bedroom door, who had no birds but
silent, tiny hummingbirds they fed on sugar water
from red glass bulbs. Now I am a grandmother,
not like you, not singing and rocking. One day I will die
and my grandson will—maybe—think about
what he might have said, but didn’t. Generations,
lineage, heritage—what is it but a bird flying over us,
dropping feathers that blow away in the breeze?
Karen Douglass writes poems, novels, a blog, and grocery lists. She lives in Colorado with three dogs, one cat, and her family. You can visit her at KD’s Bookblog, or you can come to Colorado. Her books include Red Goddess Poems; Bones in the Chimney (fiction); Green Rider, Thinking Horse (non-fiction); Sostenuto, (prose poems) and The Great Hunger (poems), which is available from Plain View Press (2009).