Once a week I wipe the dust from the lid,
tilt the little jar of ashes
and watch them settle. Where
is his giant bark of a laugh,
his hand smacking the table
so hard my plate jumped?
Night after night he voiced
all the parts in Huckleberry Finn,
and we drifted down the Mississippi,
moonlight shining on the river, low
plants slanting over the banks. The tang
of his armpits was almost too much to bear,
but I pressed close, my brother on the other side,
anchoring him for one more chapter.
I shake the bottle, watch light bounce
from tiny chunks of bone. Which one
is the menacing alcoholic Pap,
so much like his own father? Which one
is Jim the slave, whose lines he spoke
in the dulcet tones of a Southern lady.
She sleeps with scorpions,
says they tickle. At night
experimental bombs poke
holes in the darkness to the east.
Her grandchildren think
her lizard shack’s a big house.
That’s what she tells them.
She keeps a saltshaker in the garden,
talks loud and writes in secret.
Isabel swims in dust,
gives up housekeeping.
Cuts her hair, coils and frames it,
tied with a red ribbon.
Stuffs it in a drawer.
Loves the dry air
that killed her husband,
tells her grandchildren
to sprinkle salt
on a bird’s tail to tame it.
Smokes two cigarettes
while the boy and girl
tiptoe around the house, spilling
Bird after bird flies up;
she watches through the window.
An old wife has a right to her tales.
After too much coffee
the night splashes against the door,
Isabel studies the Mojave sky.
It’s almost big enough for her.
If her grandchildren come
too near, she kisses them
hard, on the mouth. They
squirm through Maxwell House
and Lucky Strikes. Isabel
thinks about the child
she gave away, the secret shame,
and shrugs, happy or not,
exactly where she wants to be.
About the Author: Erica Goss served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, from 2013-2016. She is the author of Wild Place (Finishing Line Press 2012) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press 2014). Her poems, reviews and articles appear widely. Please visit her here.