Granddad


You took me to the park to feed the ducks,
and the shop for strawberry laces;
You saved up money for my pocket,
Sliding it into my hand so my parents couldn’t see,
Telling me to buy a new kite, but so proud
when I bought bread for the ducks.

I’m sitting in bed and not crying. You are dead.
My mum told me there was no point visiting again;
You wouldn’t recognise me so I should go to the party;
I listened. That was my last chance to see you;
and I am angry, but only because it is easier
than thinking about guilt.

Lack of grief. All through the funeral I feel nothing;
able to enjoy the black dress I wear in choirs,
Family filling the prayed for gap.
Later, I find a photo and cry at last;
But I’m not sure if it’s you I’m crying for,
or the two years without buying bread for the ducks.

Jo Boon



Family Tree

I used to long for the ghost
Of your
patchouli-scented embrace:
And those long summer afternoons which
seemed too short,
when we filled the silence of the lonely house with laughter.
I still wish for the sweet taste
Of your lies:
Honey-filled and dripping
irresistibly off your tongue.
The times when I swirled them round
My mouth and swallowed them.
In the past I placed you at the base
of my family tree:
now it has a blank and you-shaped hole, that no one could ever fill.

Meredith LeMaître



The Cashier and the Devil

The cashier looks your mama up and down
and declares her the devil
even though she's the one with claw-like bangs
and no sense of charity.

This is the bible belt and your mama might as well speak
in tongues as she subtly bites her thumb in Shakespearean insult
while the cashier ponders if it's coincidence or prophecy
that has made your mama a servant of Satan.

Satan eats a lot of rice and beans.
Fruit in season for dessert.
Honey nut cheerios.
A wild ride includes a coke and Snickers bar.

It's packed with peanuts and apocalypse
apparently. Because your mama's ID carries
the mark of the devil. Some numbers, 666, some numbers
you won't remember, but you will remember that cashier.

Ray Ball



Making Apple Crumble

(For M.J.)

The apples this year are smaller than last
but still they are crisp beneath my knife;
their green skins are shiny, mostly without flaws,
innocent of maggots and the attentions of birds.
No bruised windfalls these, their flesh is tart and white.
I plucked them just this morning from the tree.
Its tender boughs are laden so heavy with fruit
that their drooping lower leaves caress the ground.
Very different this young tree planted lately by my father,
from the gnarled and twisted giant I remember.
Now he is five years gone where you went before him
a whole long, troubled lifetime ago.
How many tears have been dried since you and I
made apple crumble in what in your house
was always called the scullery?
There was a Belfast sink you cleaned daily with Vim
and a drainer made of soap-softened, well-scrubbed wood.
Our joint preparations were simpler then:
I climbed the tree while you collected windfalls.
You gathered them to you in the folds of your skirt;
dipping and rising your hand raised to your eyes.
You looked like a ship in full sail.
And while the yellow sun shone I yearned for your strength,
the bigness of your stride and your great knowing.
Your pink, fleecy bloomers worn even in summer
were the flag that you flew that signalled home.

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley



Family Get-Together

The uncles on the lawn
are dicing the younger generation
into horsemeat.
The aunts' conversation
feeds off the hair-styles of others.

And then there's the gnats,
at the height of their biting season.
And the sizzle of the grill,
sausages burning at the stake.

The outside bilious,
indoors was never more attractive.
Besides which, a grandmother's eye
has picked me like lint
off the coat of all these others.
The interrogation is wordless and old school –
what are you doing with your life?

There are times when relatives suffocate
and solitude is breathing.
I make my excuses and head indoors.
A family of one awaits.

John Grey



Son

He cries sand again this morning,
freckles rolling down his cheek, beads
of grit he sometimes flicks with his tongue
and crunches, yearning for ice.

His eyes have never been drier, streaks
of silt hatched with cherry
scratches, rubbed shingle with
the back of his sleeve.

It’s getting in his ears now
and even in his hair. But we are lucky
today, there’s no wind to fan drought
and whip his small face

and we smile about this and I whisper
spring splash and drenched eyelashes
and when he moves away
my ear tickles with beach.

Rachel Bower

My Anna


She was short of stature and withered
by age, but she was never frail. In fact
she was as strong as hell. Surviving
more wars than I could count. She
hailed from the old country, across the
sea. Poverty and abuse made her who
she was.

Her stern mouth never wore a smile,
at least not that I could recall. Grandmom
was not a name we ever used, she was
always Babci to us. It would feel strange
to call her by any other name. She spoke
mostly in her native tongue and a few
phrases of broken English for our sake.

Vain in the beauty of her youth, her gray
thinning hair dyed pitch black, pin-curled,
and held in place by a net. Those loving
hands mottled with age spots and twisted
from arthritis. She was no stranger to hard
work, and her hands showed it proudly.

I can still envision her tiny, two room
apartment, where we were always greeted
with the aroma of stewed sauerkraut and
kielbasa that had been cooking all day.
Whenever I make those old Polish recipes,
the memory of smell and taste take me back
to those small rooms, and into my Babci's
warm arms once again.

Ann Christine Tabaka



Her voice

It was a shock when I realised that I had forgotten
her voice.
I had no recording,
and no contacts with relatives who might help, or technology that might salvage lost
fragments,
in steel canisters, on a dusty outhouse shelf.

Or find nuggets in some computer’s urinary tract.
A laptop hiding secrets
in its attaché case compartment.
I realised that at the moment when you most need a hacker, none can be found, and that my
mother had died far too soon
for salvation, in any digital context or realm.

Too soon for digital archives, repositories, iPhones or tablets,
for anything as simple
as an answerphone message,
or flickering Betamax recording. And I felt jealous of a gigabyte, and of the sticky and amorphous
mass of information exhibited today.
But then maybe my mother is much happier where she is. She cannot be cut, or pasted.

Claire Sexton



What the Owl-Watcher Said

She has five of them scattered
around in the trees -- if you can
locate them. She has each
stashed in a different location
because each egg that's laid
and hatches is about a week
after the previous one, so they
don't all leave the nest
at the same time and she can
feed each one separately.

The owl-watcher tells me this
when I meet him on the path
through this same aspen grove
I delight in most mornings.
I've seen him many times
on my morning strolls.
This is the first time we've
actually conversed, other than
the usual "Good morning".

These are Long-eared Owls,
he says in response to my query,
a species unknown to me,
though I've seen many species
of owls. I don't know whether
these owls are what he claims,
but I have no reason to doubt him
and it is obvious he has been
keeping tabs on the family.

We stand, watch an unmoving
fledgeling, perched on a gnarly
twist of dying poplar, and I am
surprised at the bird's size. If this
is an immature youngster,
how large are the parents?

I'm musing this when
the owl-watcher says,
The mother swooped along
this path one evening,
flew so close to my head
I could feel the air move
above me, but it never
touched me, nor made
a passing sound.
Totally silent.
Just the moving of air.
It may have been
hunting mice or voles.
Or maybe it was trying
to tell me something.
Maybe it was some
kind of warning.

Glen Sorestad



Bloodline

Line of blood spills out like syrup
a split instant following the surgeon's scalpel
just under my wife's swollen belly.

She lies there in dozen-hour labor stupor
arms stretched out on the operating room's crucifix table.

Small inverted Christmas tree angel of a woman,
saintly, delirious, and prayerful.

I don't look down at her face –
the blood and what follows hold my eyes wide open.

Our daughter is lifted from the wet cavity cut across my wife.

No blood on her -
it is all on her mother.

Sound swirls around us,
many voices loudly in a hurry to be heard.
Numbers and words thick
with terminology

My daughter, in given statistics,
a weight and a rating,
by these loud people.

A miracle to me,
a procedure to them.

Michael Griffith