Cousins Taking Chances

September 1, 2011

My grandmother wore the coal oil lamp

high and close to her head like a tribal

ornament when she lasered us out and down

to the cellar mounding up in the brown land

 

near the garden, all the way down to air

like a splash of lake water, and the thud

of blackness when she planked the door

behind us and the light shuddered out

 

for a moment in the cold. We all went

uninvited and our imaginations were our own.

There might be a black widow webbed and barely

cornered somewhere, or salamanders splayed

 

on the walls getting their fill of roots

and dankness; but if the potato sacks were full

enough to lift us one by one to the high places,

we saw blue enamel rimmed with yellow cream

 

and peaches rising like ripe suns in an orchard

of green glass jars. Or the darkness would yield

peas to crack and roll in the palm, and apples

carried in the curve of the arm to a kitchen

 

laid with squares of red and white linoleum

like flags waving us home to a cookstove

hotter than August and ready to bake, if we

made it back after the flinging of the door

 

on earth again, the arrowing of full light

like waking up, the epiphany of silver hair

bobbing ahead, and the bolting of brown faces

and legs, the growing up like summer’s crop

 

of all of us from the deep loam of a mostly safe life.

 

September 1, 2011

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