Inheriting My Grandmother's Nightmare
By Anne Stevenson
Consider the adhesiveness of things
to the ghosts that prized them,
the “olden days” of birthday spoons
and silver napkin rings.
Too carelessly I opened
that velvet drawer of heirlooms.
There lay my grandmother’s soul
begging under veils of tarnish to be brought back whole.
She who was always a climate in herself,
who refused to vanish
as the nineteen-hundreds grew older and louder,
and the wars worse,
and her grandchildren, bigger and ruder
in her daughter’s house.
How completely turned around
her lavender world became, how upside down.
And how much, under her “flyaway” hair,
she must have suffered,
sitting there ignored by the dinner guests
hour after candlelit hour,
rubbed out, like her initials on the silverware,
eating little, passing bread,
until the wine’s flood, the smoke’s blast,
the thunderous guffaws at last roared her to bed.
In her tiny garden of confidence,
wasted she felt, and furious.
She fled to church, but Baby Jesus
had grown out of his manger.
She read of Jews in the New Haven Register
gassed or buried alive.
Every night, at the wheel of an ambulance,
she drove and drove, not knowing how to drive.
She died in ’55, paralyzed, helpless.
Her no man’s land survived.
I light my own age with a spill
from her distress. And there it is,
her dream, my heirloom, my drive downhill
at the wheel of the last bus,
the siren’s wail, the smoke, the sickly smell.
The drawer won’t shut again. It never will.
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