Do you remember that day in the garden
under the red elderberry tree?
We were digging worms for fishing, their bed fertile
with coffee grounds, and I wouldn’t quit throwing
more and more fistfuls of rich dirt into the rusted Maxwell can,
even when you said it was too much, until finally
you told Grandad I needed a whipping,
and he grunted his agreement.
You never laid a hand on me, but I couldn’t forgive you.
I thought I was your favorite, after all. You taught me
how to iron a man’s shirt, how to kill and pick a chicken.
You told me, “Ladies don’t show their teeth when they smile,”
and “Don’t play with Maria next door–she’s Mexican.”
You said someday I’d be a scientist, Susan just a clown.
When you came home for the last time and lay
in your hospital bed in the middle of the dining room,
your eyes big with black and yellow bruises,
I couldn’t go to you when you rang your bell.
I slipped silent out the back porch,
held the screen door so it wouldn’t slam,
pretended not to hear.
Mama didn’t make me go to your funeral.
Later all the people came over to stand in the dining room
and eat the food spread across the table, all your lady friends
in print dresses, stockings with straight, black seams, heavy shoes.
I ate some raspberry crumble, and it was dry in my mouth.
And I thought it so odd the next day, washing our clothes
at the Laundromat. Grandad came along, and there
between the washers and dryers, he started to play hopscotch,
a sad kind of smile on his face, jumping stiff and heavy
in boxes painted on the concrete floor.
Eleni Mays has lived in Western Oregon for four decades. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals including Willawaw Journal, Earth’s Daughters, and Plum Tree Tavern.