House of women

women final

Salt-of-the-earth women,
Scots Presbyterian, strait-laced,
undemonstrative, unremitting.

The aunties with their hair in
stiff sharp pleats, frozen
finger-waves, and loose dresses
of indeterminate shape
to conceal the secret:

Support hose and sensible
black shoes, laced tight,
squeaking like mice down the
long dim groaning hallways.

And yet there is a single child,
a girl, a cousin – yet another female
in this lair of women.

The thought occurs:
aunt must have closed
her eyes and thought of England,
at least once….

Carpets, sagging exhausted
on the backyard clothesline,
as Grammie, red-faced,
grimly beats
the winter’s long dust
into the spring air,

fragrant torrents of rolls
and bread and pastry
spewing in a golden avalanche
from the enormous steaming kitchen,

and dear, sweet Grammie
tiny wizened matriarch,
shrunken bird-woman,
all grit and tendons, and
enormous mushroom hearing aids;
loud endless belches
at the dinner table,
politely ignored.

Waist-long silver hair, brushed
one hundred careful strokes
at bedtime, then woven
into a braided halo
every morning, before dawn;
yellowing pink and ivory grin
greeting me at night
from the tumbler
on the bathroom sink.

Grammie died one night
adrift in her huge, soft
puffy bed of feathers,
a weightless white bird,
comfortable, in her sleep.

Tiptoe down the stairs
whenever I can,
to the basement,
into the root cellar,

Ali Baba’s cave,
cool dark room of shelves
stacked floor-to-ceiling,
groaning, all, with years
of summer garden bounty,
treasure-trove of fruits, sauces,
compotes, jams, jellies,
pickles, chutneys, relishes —

in this house of women,
food for the siege.

jams 2

~ Susannah