(family homestead, Bath New York)
I lift the old wooden fold-out chair from the shed. Its canvas cover is faded.
I can still make out stripes of orange, yellow, red, with a thin line of royal blue
every now and then.
We walk, the chair and I, to the mound of soft grass where the house used to be.
The grass under my feet, long and shiny. It feels as it did in the 1950’s
when we sat under these same maple trees, now as then fluttering in the breeze.
I can still see aunts and uncles strewn about on cotton quilts here,
near the old house. They talk about fishing, going gliding later today,
about Eisenhower and that oddball Nixon. They laugh, telling the story
of splashing in Camel’s Creek below the farm when they were kids.
They had one bathing suit among the four of them and had to give it
to the minister’s son, who came along.
They take in summer sun, rolling leg on leg, rubbing on suntan lotion,
grooming each other. My Dad and Uncle Cecil, shirtless, boxer shorts
showing above Bermudas, lying on their stomachs. Mom and Aunt Jane,
hair pulled back with combs and rubber bands, slide their oiled hands
up and down their husbands’ backs. Other than here
I don’t see men lying down like this, close as all four in bed together.
Other than here my father never lies down, except at night.
Uncle John sits in his yellow polo shirt and shorts, sucking on his pipe,
while Aunt Betty slaps a fly on her soft knee.
Uncle Harry’s at the pond with the boys, fishing.
Aunt Helen’s gone shopping in Hornell.
Waves of heat, flush with red raspberry smell, move over us.
Grandpa’s leaning down in the berry patch in his sleeveless, ribbed undershirt
and gray post office pants, a two-gallon metal pail on his belt, picking berries.
We’ll have them for dinner and breakfast, then lunch too.
We girls will help our moms can them in jellies tomorrow.
I follow the thick, drunk flight of bumblebees on the cluster of thistle flowers
next to Grandma’s lawn chair. She says, “When we were kids
we used to make hot pads out of these. See how the thorns hold them together
They were real pretty.”
She and I put thistle flowers together to make pads for the family dinner table.
There, Grandpa will pray for five minutes while we fidget,
asking God to “…make these stories to our uses…”
that we kids never understood until last year.
Donna L. Emerson lives in Petaluma, California, and western New York. Recently retired from Santa Rosa Jr. College. Donna’s award-winning publications include the New Ohio Review, CALYX, the London Magazine, and Paterson Literary Review. She has published four chapbooks and two full-length poetry collections. Her most recent awards: nominations for a Pushcart, Best of the Net, and two Allen Ginsberg awards. Visit her website: Donna Emerson.com