Off you go on your tractor to split the wood.
Seems I’m always hailing you from a distance,
you at your work, I at mine watching you,
recording your work on a day in spring
that is already looking through summer
to the cold trap of winter beyond, knowing
the flare of color in fall a brief fire
that will not last but will end as we will––
brown and sere––pushed off our branch
by the buds of another spring.
The first pounding rumble of thunder
announces the beginning of spring today––
April 4, the 130th birthday of my grandmother
Hannah Maki. Wherever her sauna is now
may she know her life celebrated, who in 1908
braved the cold swells of the North Atlantic
to reach America through the seaport of Quincy,
Mass., where Finnish laborers worked the quarries;
where Finnish girls and Finnish women, known
for their strong character, worked in the houses
of Quincy families, cleaning, cooking, sewing,
singing songs of a homeland they would never
see again. My mummo among these valiant
Finns gets my attention with this April storm;
she who embodied sisu, and implanted it
in my own mother, who passed it on to us her
children in the genes of our hidden souls.
*sisu: Perseverance in the face of great odds,
associated with Finns and Finland.
The keen return of taste
the sound ear hearing clearly
the grandchild’s song––
To know spring in the smell
of earth and see the robins
run in a burst of color––
All of it clings burr-like
to the lining of memory.
There is more of grave than of gravy, I said,
turning Dickens’ line on its head,
a reference to my father three score dead
when I dreamed him alive last night,
alive but with skin peeling, as if from
a wasting disease, but beneath that disease
deep joy, what with being alive
again, even within the bounds of dream
a smile in the eye and face proclaimed
his presence so long ago known, cut
off suddenly by death in the night
in his own bed that failed to support his life.
No whining, no crying, I quick admonish.
That was then; this is now, and he lives.
Toward what end this lively visit, this gift
given without the asking? All of that remains
to be seen. Meanwhile, I write it down.
Unlike the mattress of years past, this paper
supports his life re-given, and I can read it
out loud, as I will: His name––Edmond Thomas.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
You chew the apple like a little beaver
turning it rapidly in your corn-cob fingers.
“It gone,” you hand the core to me
and seal the memory of you at the river
in your baseball hat, fishing from the bank
where beavers have chewed the birch I balance
on watching you, my son, my beaver boy
consuming the day with white and perfect teeth.
My son and I toast marshmallows
over the flames of old love letters
into the ashes
of picnics past in green fields
streamed through with sepia-toned
water, clear in the way of old photos.