As Though You Owned that Time

By Alison Stone

Grandma, your paintings shine from frames. Soap

carvings of rabbits, arch-backed cats, a dancing bear,

two dogs with curling-ribbon

collars march on a tray near your collection of miniature spoons.

Weddings to one side, your mantel

teems with offspring who crowd the self-published volume of your poems.

In each crevice of this house, you put yourself, inking

political slogans on wooden stools, crocheting hats to hold a roll

of toilet paper, knitting handles for the drapes.

 

When anyone would listen,

you recited Shakespeare, your rich voice filling each soliloquy.

I gave you “Howl” in return,

which you hated. You were even more disgusted by my teacher

and his line “the dead put on their shoes.”

“The dead put on their shoes?” That isn’t poetry.

It makes no sense.

 

You know now if it makes sense or not.

But which shoes?

The shiny black ones of your girlhood when you took

the train to school,

and, too small to push open the doors,  often had to ride an extra stop?

The heels of your brief rebellion?

The flats for your one job, stenographer at the Aetna, where you got fired

for getting married? (Though they

kept you on, you told us proudly, longer than policy.)

Perhaps the flowered slippers

waiting near the couch where you read.

 

Absence makes you nicer.

We praise your volunteer

work and amazing memory, ignore your narrow-mindedness, your fear

which made my mother’s

childhood a list of “don’ts.” Don’t swim, you’ll get

wet. Don’t ice skate, you’ll

get cold. Don’t get a dog, they die.

Twice you broke

this last rule and brought your daughters wagging bundles;

both times you changed

your mind again, with a weak excuse gave the puppy back.

 

There are things I could tell you,

you said, then clamped your mouth shut and tightened

your throat until something grew there.

 

Instead you told happy tales beginning, In my day

as though you owned that time,

smoothing over the Depression, savoring your sixty years with the same man.

 

Grandma, ninety-two

is not enough. This is the last time your house will hold you.

Already the great-grandchildren

are taking paintings; my aunt is offering your bedroom set.


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