Grampa, by scent

Tobacco pouchHere is another prose poem, written during a time when poems simply leaked out of my heart and all I could do was grab a pen and write them down.

I think I was in the process of recapitulating my life, storing memories away in order not to forget my parents and grandparents, who were by then all gone.

This piece is about my mother’s father, who died of what was then known as “Bright’s Disease” when I was 2 1/2 years old.  But my two memories of him – the scent of his pipe tobacco, rich and sweet and warm, and the feel of him holding me in his arms and  rocking me in his big old rocking chair – have always been clear and bright.

In fact, for many years after his death, the scent of that pipe tobacco clung to the old tobacco pouch that my grandmother always kept on the living-room windowsill; and whenever I visited and opened it again, that wonderful scent brought him back to me instantly.

Later, my memories began to include my mother’s stories about her own childhood during the Great Depression, and these too became part of this poem.

Here is Grampa, by scent:

Plumber and tinsmith by trade
but artist in his soul,
faded brown snapshots
proclaim this lover of life:
laughing eyes, and quick,
devil-may-care grin
to steal your heart.

Charming and improvident,
country thespian,
king of the village stage –
and fried bread and
gravy for dinner.

“Art doesn’t put
food on the table,”
my grandma used to say.

storm-tossed ships at sea
and languid country scenes,
painted willy-nilly on
scraps of cardboard,
writing paper, postcards –
whatever came to hand.

Small bright copper figurines
at play:  golfers,
baseball players, fishermen,
caught in the act
on their small copper stands,
created at his workbench
when the lure – and the urge
to run from leaking faucets,
clogged drainpipes –
became, once again,
too insistent to resist.

And after the Depression –
(“Oh, is it over?”
my grandma used to say)
his second-hand first car,
“My Old Girl Ippy,”
short for Ipecac, you know,
“because that old car’s
so damned ugly, it makes you
throw up just to look at it!”

Sweet, spicy scent
of pipe tobacco
from the silk-soft leather
of the lop-eared
tobacco pouch
on the windowsill.

Scent of my Grampa,
who, all of my life,
has lived in my secret heart.