Four Poems


Abigail arrives for an overnight,
her backpack filled with toothbrush,
Spider Man, twelve silky-maned ponies,
three large cookies she helped bake
and a zip-lock bag of paper dolls.

The dolls, Megan and Beth, smile
their cardboard smiles and share
a wardrobe of self-adhering clothes.

I tell about the tab-cut dresses
I struggled with sixty years ago,
outfitting Tillie the Toiler and Betty Grable,
and I marvel at today's use of magnets.

When Abby packs to go home,
she lines up the dolls on my coffee table,
their coats, boots, hats, sweaters—
all minus tabs—and tells her mom,
"I'm leaving these for Grandma to play with."

In Which My Mother Comes Back and Takes Care of Things

My dream parades her up the driveway
in her Easter hat from 1952, lily-of-the-valley
affixed to the brim, her good rhinestone brooch
and strand of fake pearls.  Gone four decades,
she says some things are worth coming back for.

Why is everyone perched in front of little screens
and how did traffic get so bad even in the sky
and why hasn't this planet given up on the war
business just look what it did to your uncles
in the 'forties not one of those boys ever the same.

I pour coffee from the china pot she gave me, bring out
the photo albums, lament about the lingering recession.
Hang in there honey remember we got ourselves out
of a worse mess just find yourselves another FDR
do what you can be a nice girl I'll put in a good word.

She pulls on her white gloves and she's off down the driveway—
seamed stockings, patent leather pumps, snap-shut pocketbook.

Mothers and Sons at Arlington National Cemetery

I see them on the news screen—
a coterie of mothers gathering
at their sons' gravesites, bringing
inventories of loss, petals of solace.

Together they sort memories,
fold them like faded bluejeans,
stash them like private letters
they'll go on reading and reading again.

All are left with soldier stories
cut short, shipped home from afar,
appended with traditional honors—
folded flags and spangled speeches.

These mourners need something more.
Grief-mangled in a caretaker circle,
they come here to begin—face to face
on America's son-swallowing grounds.

Programming Grandpa

I still see my mother's father hunched
beside the Philco console, taking in
the news report of Gabriel Heater,
the one commentator he could trust.

Only once during those radio years did I see
Grandpa abandon his listening post, leaving
Fibber McGhee and Molly to work out
their own domestic dilemma while he rushed

to avenge Helen, Mother's teen-age sister
who had caught herself a convict for a boyfriend.
The scoundrel, sighted in neighboring woods,
prompted Grandpa to grab his shotgun and forbid

us kids to leave the house.  My cousins and I
huddled on the porch listening for the blast
that would mean paternal justice; but the rogue
got away and Helen sneaked out that night,

as she did every night after Grandpa went to bed.
When her twins were born, their father was back
in prison, and we braced ourselves for explosives
from Grandpa.  Instead, he softened, turned into

a grinning marshmallow of a man, a dad again,
after bringing up his own turbulent twelve.
I see him rocking Helen's bundles, one in each arm,
all three absorbed in the Sunday night shows.

Thanks to those little girls, Grandpa stayed tuned
for another set of growing up years;
and like Jack Benny, he announced
each birthday that it was his thirty-ninth.

—Jeri McCormick, Madison, WI