From the Fall 2013 issue; the topic was MY GRANDFATHER
Bear-Dancing With Eels by John P. Landry, San Jose, CA
for Jean Pierre Landry (1888-1970)
Pépère heats the skillet
over an open fire
twirls it, beats it like a bell
like a black iron drum
I stand back from
out over the seaweed
whipping slowly in the tide
trident in hand
standing on the stone wall
covered with barnacles
I spear an eel
and carry it home
above my head
a thrashing banner
like a warning flag in a gale
with his paws up
with claws open
up above his head
rocking from side to side
from one foot
to the other
with an eel
in his teeth
and then comes chasing us
around and around the fire
making the flames dance more
with every circumnavigation
the eel biting at air
thrashing to be free
from Pépère’s mouth
bending back to bite him
with its own sharp teeth
see the tines of the spear
passing thru his slither
a vice screwed to a 2 X 4
stands jaw open
he chops the eel’s head off
and it looks up from the ground
eyes angry and open wide forever
mouth waiting to close
tight with revenge
he slides a little stick in and we
chase each other around the yard
squealing in horrible delight
he tightens the vice at the tail
and takes 2 pair of pliers
to rip the whole skin off
tossing the naked eel
into the smoking skillet
where it pops and spits and jumps
contorting in a wild convulsive
dance of death
Shediac to Sconticut
skin and bones and guts
into the garden to re-nourish the soil
no eels to put in my mouth
to continue my grandfather’s dance
Pépère is gone (d. 1970)
eels no longer come to these
sunken rocks and walls
the ocean’s composition
has become uninhabitable
the rivers closed to herring and eels
where they come to ancestor lands
to regenerate the species
they come and are turned back
in desperate twists and conniptions
its frantic death dance
at the breaking point of its torque
John Landry is a Massachusetts native and was poet laureate of New Bedford from 2007-2010. He now lives in California. He has had poems published in many journals and in many countries, and was contributing editor to the 50th anniversary anthology celebrating the San Francisco literary landmark, Beatitude. In an interview in the November issue of Nazar Look (www.nazar-look.com/home), John says “I was born with an enlarged curiosity. I am easily distracted by shiny things like crows.”
Bupkis by Jeanne Holtzman, Franklin, MA, firstname.lastname@example.org
We never questioned why Grandpa Dave never visited with Grandma. We never thought of grandparents in pairs, since our other Grandma had died when I was a baby, before my brother was born. Grandpa Dave was our favorite. He always played games with us, taught us to yell “Bupkis!” when we drew a bad card, and warmed up spaghetti in a pot that we thought was the best meal ever. He died alone in his apartment when we were in our twenties. I’d never thought of him as anything other than our grandfather. Years later we heard stories that he was a bootlegger, owned a bowling alley, had a diamond ring and a Stutz bearcat, lost everything in the depression. Some said Grandma divorced him after his money was gone. She was always stern and cold. Going though my mom’s things after she died, I found Grandma’s divorce papers and read the decree. Grandma could remarry at any time, but Grandpa could never remarry. I read it three times to be sure that’s what it said. I wonder if he minded, if he was lonely. Grandma never remarried either. I don’t think she ever wanted to.
Scrapple by Tiff Holland, Round Rock, TX, email@example.com
My grandfather was a doughboy, then a paratrooper. He marched on Washington after one of the wars. I have a picture, his pants stuffed in his boots, a smokey bear hat slid to his bushy brows. He is holding something. I cannot remember his voice. I cannot remember him speaking. He had a chair by the door. The chair vibrated. His were the only hands the dog wouldn’t nuzzle. He had emphysema from the mustard gas and he only ate scrapple: eggs and spam. It was the only thing he could taste. I hung up his picture. I thought him a hero. My grandmother did not grieve him when he died. She shuffled around the house in her slippers, and then another man died, another soldier. I saw the cut out obituary on my grandmother’s kitchen table. She took to wearing that man’s dog-tags around her neck, old tags, on a leather strap, a ship engraved on one side of the thick metal and Edward on the other. I watched when my grandmother stuck a picture of herself in an envelope along with the obituary, no letter, no note. I took her to the post office to mail it to his widow.
Degradation by Emily Jo Scalzo, Muncie, IN
Before the Alzheimer’s, Poppy was warmth in the cold, someone who introduced a young mind to the idea of karma, who promised everything would be okay, even when bad things happened. At the country club one Christmas when I was three, after a girl stole the cheap green plastic motorcycle given to me by Santa Claus himself, I was inconsolable.
Poppy took me outside, into the cold, snowy night, lit only by the ambient light of the distant parking lot lights and the stars. He held me in his arms, knowing the cold would eventually make me stop crying, the night too frigid for tears. We stood there in the dark near a ravine, and he told me the country club kept lions and tigers and bears down there, and they ate mean little girls—that girl would get hers, but not tonight, was the implication. He promised we would get a better toy motorcycle; one no one would ever take from me. He shook my wrist, making the bells on the red velvet wristbands Nana made for my outfit tinkle softly in the snowy night as he comforted me.
I cling to that memory, and those of him splashing in the country club baby pool with me, or putting water wings on me to take me into the adult pool with him, gently introducing me to deep water, teaching me to swim, from before his mind was lost to anger and resentment at its failing.
Night and Day by Susan Mahan, Weymouth, MA
My father wore pressed white shirts and bow ties.
He buffed his leather shoes to a high shine.
He was serious, thoughtful and polite,
drawing on his pipe to consider his words.
Dad wouldn’t say horseshit
if he was standing in a pile of it.
My grandfather had the deepest dimples and a twinkle in his eye.
He chewed tobacco and kept a spit jar in his pocket.
Sometimes Papa Matt wore his pajamas
the whole time we were there.
Nana was always mad at him and giving him a look.
Papa Matt had a raspy Irish brogue,
and he cackled at his own stories.
His speech was peppered with occasional curses
and words like hoodwink and malarky.
Dad bought my sisters and me valentines every year,
signing Love, Dad in his meticulous left-handed cursive.
He told us stories about World War II on our daytime walks
and Aesop’s fables at bedtime.
He taught me that life was tough sometimes,
but that you could get through it if you did the right thing.
Papa Matt thought it was important to pay attention
and to keep the upper hand.
His standing advice was to
answer the door with a hat and coat on.
If it was someone you liked,
you could say you had just gotten home;
if not, you could say you were on your way out.
Papa Matt taught me to be skeptical.
Dad taught me to believe.
Drinking With Grandpa by J.D. Brayton, Silver Spring, MD 20905 firstname.lastname@example.org
In 1972, two days after my eighteenth birthday, I went north from Florida to visit my grandparents in Riverside, Rhode Island. My father, George Jr. (whom they called Sonny) was dead by that time. Grandpa still mourned his only son.
“Grandpa, I’m eighteen now–and I’m old enough to drink. Let’s go to the club.”
The sign read ‘Riverside Sportsman Club- Private- Members only.’ The six old Vets sat drinking at the bar in the middle of the afternoon. They all looked up as I, a baby-faced hippie kid with long hair halfway down to my ass, walked in with my grandpa.
Grandpa was quiet as he sipped his beer. After his third, he gargled;
“Y’oughta be signed up fer the service, kid, if yer eighteen.”
The effects of all the beer made me bold enough to sass him back.
“So I gotta go to Viet Nam to serve my country?”
“Hell, yes–“y’do yer duty!” barked Kenny the barkeep, polishing glass. My grandfather’s coughing kept him from being able to speak. He nodded an affirmative and pointed at the flag.
“Isn’t that why all you guys fought WW2? –so I wouldn’t know what war was like? Right, Grandpa? Didn’t you guys suffer so dumb-ass kids like me would never know? Wasn’t that the idea?”
Grandpa George looked up at me from his bar stool. The others in the bar grew silent. One old Vet rose slowly to leave. It wasn’t until he stepped into the full light and faced me that I noticed his left sleeve was pinned at the shoulder. He smiled down at me.
“He’s gotta point they-uh, George. He’s Sonny’s boy alright.”
The 1892 Morgan Silver Dollar by Linda Hofke, Rudersberg, Germany http://lind-guistics.blogspot.de/
“The police caught the guy at the pawn shop trying to hock my pearls and cubic zirconia earrings. I guess he thought they were real diamonds. I got them back, but my silver dollar—he used it to buy a sandwich at the deli. A sandwich! And now it’s gone. I’ll never see that coin again,” I cried.
“Probably wasn’t worth much anyway,” my friends said, trying to calm me.
“Definitely worth more than a dollar!” Much more I thought. My grandfather once held that coin in his hands. Yet how could I explain it to them? They surely wouldn’t understand. They had grandfathers to hug or memories to hold onto and I had none of these things. I had my list. He played mandolin. He worked as a barber. During the depression, they ate stale bread soaked in milk. He died from an aneurysm when I was almost two. I only know what I’ve been told about him.
So I made the list and held onto the two things connecting me to him–a family photograph with both of us, me just a baby in the nook of my mother’s arm, and the old coin he left me, the solid feel of it in the palm of my hand always worth more than its monetary value. I’d been robbed of knowing him and now a burglar had stolen his silver dollar. It didn’t seem fair.
The words began to tumble from my lips. “About that coin…”
My Grandfather: The Thinker, The Writer by Eileen Tull, Cincinnati, Ohio http://eileentull.com/
My grandfather’s mind was sharp ‘til the end. So sharp in fact that he could cut, stab, prick, and slice. His weapon of choice was his words, or rather lack thereof. We had been good pals, great friends. He was devoted to my mother, her husband, and their children, and we to him. Two things seeped in. The first was cancer, into my mother’s body. He found himself unable to look at her. Her face, her bald head. He was quite old and wanted to be sicker and closer to death than any of his children. He found himself unable to look at us, the children. So he looked away. And discarded our letters. The other seeping item was fear. Fear of what would happen to his money. Where would it go? Who would hold it? So it was that my grandfather looked away from us and looked towards his other daughter. The one with the affinity for looking away and for looking after what happened to money. She took him in, claws bared, and tenderly nursed him in his final months. Ladling soup into his mouth with one hand and ladling his cash into her pocket with the other. She was ambidextrous, so this was quite easy for her. Then he died one day and went where dead people go. She sits in her big fine house now. Next to a picture of my grandfather and his children and his grandchildren. A picture in which we are ripped out.
Birthright by Mara Buck https://www.facebook.com/mara.
We were a working class family on a tight budget, so my first trip to New York City was a thrill. My father drove our mile-weary Chevy down the West Side Highway when the road was still cobbled and the S-turns were vicious. I was young enough to stand up in the back and grip the front seat, squinting out the windshield, overwhelmed. Pointing out a gigantic water tower that serviced much of lower Manhattan, Dad proudly told me, “Your grandfather built that. He walked the high steel.” Long before the Trade Center, that water tower loomed a dinosaur, a blue-collar neighbor in the glittering skyline. For years until they tore it down, whenever I drove into the city, it gave me shivers to know that my grandfather built that. His New York. My desk drawer holds black and white photos of a tall erect man with unruly white hair and well-tanned skin. On this Maine land where I now live, my grandfather died in the back room of a farmhouse long decimated–but he built a water tower in the biggest city in the world. From the ruins of that house I rescued a cardboard sign: Frank Buck, steamfitter, jobbing, contracting. My birthright is that water tower looming large in my memory. My grandfather, his sweat helped build New York, and that makes it mine. My New York. And I sit here, in the woods, and New York is awash with tears on a September morning. Our New York.