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.
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.
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,
behind him, always.