For Ethel 1895-1986

What’s this doing here? For many years, I exchanged long letters with this lady, my father’s mother. I was in California; she in Iowa, but she kept my letters and quoted me to myself in her long responses. She made reading and writing vital skills. She’d been a one-room school house teacher who rode a horse to school, tried to teach me to darn, and memorized poems, the longer and funnier, the better.

Grandness


“I knew you forever and you were never old, soft white lady of my heart.” Anne Sexton, “Foreign Letters”


She is sixty-eight, me eight—
oldest and youngest
of our line, we sit enthroned
at the tongue-red Formica table
under a deep-silled window
in a yellow house
in a square town in a square
county in a square state.
We are of ourselves.
Orange juice is brought
before us—and Sanka
for her—and cornflakes.
We snap and toss stories
like green beans.
We rub them same
as we shine apples
against our aprons,
before deciding
which will go
to Ed’s pigs, which
to pie and which
to solemn Mason jars
awaiting summons
in the damp basement.
We are of ourselves.
We glance aslant
at the 1917 photo
of her husband leaning
on a lamp post—in Paris,
she says—watching
the Paris girls go
bye-bye. We approve
him to live. We decree
the turning on of the radio,
serving up feed and seed,
the price of wheat and corn
and the weather, the weather,
the weather for those who
care—not she, not I.
We are of ourselves.
Out the window, we oversee
the numbskull neighbor
stooping, planting
blue plastic flowers
at the edge of her front walk
and her dog
following, tearing
them out. We agree
we will be kind
about the flowers
as we process
to the library, later.
We will declare delight.

Susanne Dutton

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