2 poems by Laura Jan Shore

GRANDMA TESS 

Where’ve you been since we left you 

on that sleet grey day in your plain pine box?

At the funeral, I heard your voice;

The suffering ends here. 

Those words still sing in me

as I cuddle my own grandkids 

or hang out laundry, your voice 

in the flap of wet towels. 

I see my small hands stretch up 

to catch the sheets you cranked 

through your wringer, stiff as cardboard. 

Me, struggling to carry the bucket of pegs 

in winter when the laundry froze and you beat 

off the ice with a stick. Gnarled arthritic fingers stirring

buckwheat groats and poking the roast.  

Standing tip-toe on a stool beside you, 

the volcano of grains bubble and spurt. 

And now, your scrutiny, as I soak beans 

or air out my closets, remembering your house, 

the smell of grandpa’s cigars, mothballs, his salacious

puns that never failed to make you squirm. 

So teach me, Grandma, how to ease my pinched heart 

for each overheard woe, the kind you brewed 

into a cancer in your gutwith a tsk, tsk, 

toss of your head, braids coiled 

around your ears like a crown,

flowered apron draped over your lumpy waist. 

Wringing your chafed hands at tragedy 

in Africa or next door or on your favourite TV soap, 

wiping your tears with a dishrag as we listened

to La Boheme on the radio, I keep hoping 

this time, she’ll live.

After 50 years of marriage without a driver’s licence, 

you peeled off in a trail of clouds, 

ignoring Grandpa’s hysterics. 

Death was your Chevrolet.

DETOUR

I’m tramping a well-marked trail

and scarcely notice the clotting sky.

My mind, an amber river        

where the dying bathe,

the smoke of a funeral pyre.        

My boy is wandering,        

somewhere in India.   

It’s been too long since I’ve had news.

The biting air rouses me. A sift of white. 

On my tongue, thick snowflakes 

taste like stone. Cling to my eyebrows and hair.

Birch trees shiver bare branches.

A cardinal lands in a splash of red. 

Dusk settles early. The path has vanished. 

My boot prints disappear. Fingers fist 

inside blue mittens. Gusts nudge my back.

I strain to hear the highway, stumble,

in ankle deep snow.

Tawny eyes grip mine. A fox,    

brash against the white, sweep 

of russet tail. With a balletic turn,     

he prances off.

Anchored, in my little clouds 

of breath and tumbling heart, a hum 

slithers up my spine.

A towering

presence behind. A hand paws 

my arm. I whip around.

Not a hand – a spruce bough,

abloom with snow. Hello!

Reminds me of          

my boy’s slender back, 

the slope of his shoulders,       

arms still gangly, head     

sprouted high above my own. 

My hands rise as if to rest 

softly on his scapula, the heat

of his blood alive in my palms.

I’m walking behind him, 

walking 

behind him, always.

About the contributor

Laura Jan Shore teaches poetry in northern NSW. She won the Martha Richardson Poetry Prize (2012) and the FAW John Shaw Nielson Award (2009), and her poetry collections include Breathworks (Dangerously Poetic Press, 2002), Water over Stone Interactive Press, 2011) and Afterglow (upcoming from Interactive Press, 2020). Her work appears in literary journals across four continents.

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