Although my niece, Shelby, wasn’t part of our family until she was eight, and my older girls were seven, I have been thinking — obsessively — about when they were all younger, and I thought I would share this poem. It was part of a collection (now abandoned) that I called Unbridled. I was experimenting with not using punctuation.
My older daughters were five that summer
playing at their grandmother’s my mother’s
with their cousins my nephew Tucker
and Hailee my cousin’s grandchild
my family with its layers of generations
I went outside to check on them
and found all four lying in the grass
eyes closed and their hands folded
I said what are you doing
and my twins who had an agreement
then never to tell on each other said nothing
but Hailee in a flat scary voice said we’re dead
I looked to the kitchen window
wondering which grandmother stood there
my mother or my cousin each with her
history of loss that is not a good game I said
and the children stood up looking relieved
the cherries were on and I held down a branch
I let them pick as long as they wanted
their innocence so ripe I could smell it
on the wet pits they spit into the grass.
first published in Pontoon: An Anthology of Washington State Poets, No. 10 (2007)
It is so nice to have memories like this in your head, but especially
written down in poetic form. They are sweetly sad because the years go by too fast. And now we know what fast really means – especially
because of Shelby, too soon, too soon.
By the way your cleaning out the play room gave me the incentive to do a huge give-a-way – the car is full to the brim for Goodwill today and it’s good stuff, paintings, signed prints, things stored’ why keep it? Pass it on.
Was Shelby the niece who recently passed away? I like the imagery in this poem.
Yes, Shelby is — was — my brother’s step daughter. I like the idea, Carolynne, of a “huge give-a-way.” Maybe that’s the step I’m missing. I have a tendency (like my parents did) to hold onto things.
amazing poem. really like the unbridled poems and think the form really works for them.
You should like them, as you were instrumental in helping me work through them and make them feel like a book. Opening the mss. again makes me think I should resurrect it as a chapbook. “America, America,” by the way, was also one…
Thanks for commenting!