Apr 27, 2009

My Grand-Mère

Today, I received a rejection letter from an esteemed literary journal, explaining why they chose not to publish this poem. Well, rejection or not, I love this poem. It reminds me of my beloved grandmother (who passed away in the 1980s) so much that when I re-read it, I can feel her presence. In her honor, then . . .


Each day at three

my Grand-Mère

served cookies and iced tea

to two or three of us,

milk-gulping, dirty-ankled grandkids.

We’d eagerly run down the bumpy dirt road

in sneakers and shorts,

leaping over the mud puddle

always in the dip

and around the black heart cherry tree

she had planted,

around the petal-pink effusive peonies

also brought to life

by Grand-Mère hands.

We’d dash by the

candy-apple red rose bush

that grew up over the stone chimney

of the red house--

Grand-Mère and Daddy Ed’s

summer cottage in the whisper-cool

North Carolina mountains.

We’d make the final leap

up the hand-set rock steps

not paying attention to

the baby’s breath and the forsythia

whose oval waxy green leaves

we traded as play-currency.

We’d pause at the screen door to don our manners,

and knock politely,

certain she’d be waiting for us.

Grand-Mère would greet us at the door.

Small, womanly French-Catholic

with blue-rimmed black eyes

and a curly white halo of hair,

proud like her.

She would plant a light peck

on each cheek, French-style.

She could hardly remember our names

much less our birthdays,

But when she welcomed us in

we were her honored guests.

The cards would be set up

on the white-washed

rustic kitchen table.

We’d play Crazy 8 and Old Maid and

Gin Rummy and

Las Vegas-style Solitaire

while she told stories

of her trip to France

when but a stylish young lady,

of her stern (and wealthy)

Papa who would leave when he said he would

whether his girls were in the car or not.

How she worked for a while

when it was not proper

for a well-raised woman to do so.

How she was the first woman to swim

the Tampa Bay

that she later learned was

teeming with sharks.

Grand-Mère made the best

fresh vegetable soup

With tomatoes from the garden,

peeled and tossed with okra

and a pinch of sugar

like the Creoles.

She made sliced tomato

sandwiches with

salt and pepper

on fluffy white bread.

She taught us how to make sandwiches

(“Spread the mayonnaise

all the way to the edge”)

and how to crochet

and to suck the nectar

from a honeysuckle blossom.

She’d exhort us to

sit up straight and take

only one cookie at a time.

She painted tales of adventure and color,

never mentioning how she raised

six dark-haired children without any help.

Grande Mere and her


baby-bearing belly.

We learned in family whispers

how her husband drank and forgot

and drained the car dealership away.

How she put her twins in an orphanage

one time when there

wasn’t enough to feed them,

My own Uncle Jack and Aunt Jill,

from riches to rags.

My father, the shortest child,

still complains of the rickets he had

when food was scarce.

But on those summer afternoons

she spoke of wanting to be a chef

Of etiquette and mien

Of how to make a bed properly,

and the latest silly joke

from her buddy Nette Nichols

of New Orleans, Louisiana,

while green beans and squash

would bubble on the stove.

She taught us French words

like robe de chambre,

petit, and merci

while we’d try out being grown-ups.

Her husband did come back,

and never drank again.

We called him Daddy Ed

And he’d chuckle quietly

in the background

tottering around in his Izod sweaters

and thin wool pants.

He called himself a Florida cracker

and used to chant,

“When I was a little girl,

I lived all by myself,

and every single thing I got,

I put up on a shelf.”

We forgave him

for still fighting the Civil War

and cursing dem Yankees.

He wasn’t Grand Mère,

whom we’d come to see

but he’d make sure

there were peaches and ice cream

when we visited.

And Grand Mère served

tea and cookies and

cards and tomatoes

And knew how to make things grow.


© Copyright 2007, Tumerica, All Rights Reserved

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