Two Poems

Grandma Nelson

Grandma Nelson fed our world.
Uncle Earl said, during the depression,
she'd buy potatoes by the gross
and divvy them up to her tenants. 
She'd save the butter off our plates,
but she wore a mink that bit its own tail.

Once from the Minnesota State Fair,
Grandma sent me coconut macaroons
shaped and colored like steak, potatoes and peas.

Grandma fed our world,
so if you want to know her,
follow the food.  Early morning,
smell the coffee, suck on sugar cubes
and home-baked cinnamon bread.

To know her, watch her hands,
large like a man's,
kneading bread, de-boning fish.

If you want to know her,
let her stroke your arm,
taste her Spritz cookies and lemon bars,
listen to the melody of her half-Swedish English,
her laugh, her silence.

To know my grandma,
listen to Axel the Swede on TV,
glide down her lush, carpeted stairs. 
Twist the key on her music box. 
See how her feet have shaped her empty shoes,
large shoes, black practical grandma shoes. 
Taste Swedish potato sausage,
limpa and cranberries.  Then,
in the living room,
where there are porcelain birds,
a toy that makes cow noised,
candy dishes, and a doll that dances on your feet,
relax under a chair.  Feel its twisted satin fringe. 
Then fall asleep to the Kate Smith Show.


Out of respect for Dad   we leave off the TV today
listen to the silence full of him just far enough away
that we strain to hear his deep voice full of kindness
like a rich coffee black as mahogany   a buckeye
so smooth you hold it in your child hand 
place it on your cheek wishing the gentleness
would pour into your empty cup 

When he lay dying   I tried to make my hand his
to brush his forehead as he brushed so gently mine 
I wanted to hold his hand as he held mine
ushering me up to the kindergarten door
I wanted to see him join a circle of friends
a safe circle with a teacher who would tell him
that nine is a balloon on a stick
and that Jack jumped over the candlestick 
I stood at the door clutching his hand   he entered smiling 

—Carolyn Vargo, Milwaukee, WI