Grandmother in Heaven

by Jim Doss
Third Place, April 2022
Judged by M.B. McLatchey

….after Philip Levine

Darkness eases between the leaves
of the maple as you walk with a basket
of windfall gathered from Seelman’s orchard.

In it you’ve gathered red and gold apples,
green pears with a touch of blush on their cheeks,
and blackberries oozing with juice. You follow

a dirt path raked over by chickens
to the covered porch with its glider,
rocking chairs, and moths circling globes of light.

You hesitate by a long-forgotten door
where grey wood reveals the soul hidden
beneath a skin of flaking paint.

It’s now years before your second son
will lay in an improvised incubator
made out of blankets, a basting pan

and the oven’s low heat as you nurse
his fight for life with a medicine dropper
filled with your own breast milk.

It’s decades before the last heart attack
will turn your red hair silky white overnight
as the hydrangeas bloomed in your yard.

Now you step across the threshold
to become your father’s plain Irish daughter again,
greeted by the silence of his pipe smoke.

It follows you into the kitchen, watches
you empty the basket onto the oak table,
count the pieces one by one

while he sleeps in a lounge chair,
newspaper folded into wings
across the soft rise and fall of his chest.

Tonight you will sit in your room,
braid a love knot before the mirror,
waiting for that black haired German boy,

face sunburned from the fields, but cleanly washed,
to toss a pebble against your window,
show you there is nothing plain about the darkness.

“A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer,” E. B. White tells us. This homage for a deceased grandmother unashamedly celebrates the poet’s just-so-clear memory of a woman, mother, and mentor. The accomplishment of this poem rises from the fact that, stanza after stanza, a story of toughness, resilience, and love’s various forms is captured through biased memories, but not too biased; through selected scenes, but not too favorably selective; through images that are just so clear and no clearer. --M.B. McLatchey