Gail Peck: Four Poems
Nine hour drive to Georgia,
wisteria, that parasite, clinging lavender
to trees. Riding through this rain
and dampness. We’re coming to deceive
my mother-in-law who’ll never leave
Camellia Gardens. We’ll sort the important stuff,
then toss old candles, yellowed paperbacks, spices.
I’ll ask at some point about the pink and gold
Venetian glasses. What to do with that clock
that’s been on top the china cabinet ten timeless
years since she and dad moved? We’ll dispose
of it all and later sell the house.
So many trips already-an ugly drive until you reach
pecan trees. Fresh crop-signs
along the highway. I’ll keep that book Nana taught me
to cook from. How long since she last stood before a stove?
The photos, no guilt-free escape. I’ll leave that
to my husband. Dad gone years ago, like the father
I never knew. I once accidentally spilled a glass
of wine on him, and he had to change those corduroy
pants he loved. We’ll never be arrested so many
commit this crime and call it love and duty, but I’m drinking
a glass of wine in the car to make this last hour pass,
and my husband’s going the speed limit. At least I hope he is.
We give so little thought
to what we throw away. When I lift the heavy clock
that hasn’t worked for years, it chimes. Stacks
of underwear, and now she’s in diapers. Something rubbery
at the back of a drawer, and I see it’s what was fashioned
to be her left breast. Costume jewelry I’d never wear,
but how I want that vase and crystal dish that held cakes
lit with candles. Champagne glasses no one else
has need of. “You’re like my own mother,” I say
to Nana in the nursing home. “You don’t mean
that,” she answers. I take her fruit and salads, place
warm compresses on her neck. They dampen her shirt I must change,
gently lifting one arm, then the other-skin bruised
and thin as onion paper. She reminds me the blinds are open.
Her sister’s in the next room recovering from a knee replacement.
When she first arrived, I rolled Nana to see her, and Gladys
reached out her hand and said, “Hello Sis.” I sat down
on the roommate’s bed, and an “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” alarm went off.
No one came running.
Wine is such a comfort. I drink too much, my feet propped
in the recliner. I ask for more, and my husband brings
the bottle. I see it’s dipped below the top
of the label. That loud ticking I heard in the garage
was another clock I’d put there. Ugly V-shape at both ends.
Whoever thought to change the battery? Three
Christmas globes on the table. I shake one.
It’s only snowed a few times in this town,
and when it did, everyone pressed their noses
to the windows in some kind of newfound wonderment.
My Husband in That Sweater
Not the navy he usually wears,
but his father’s sweater-
blue of the bluebird,
blue of the Mediterranean
I once watched from a balcony
as they dragged up silvery fish.
His father loved to eat fish, and toward
the end it was served
on a plate without designs
he would mistake for food.
In his blue sweater my father-in-law
wandered from room to room,
front draperies closed for privacy,
in the new house where mockingbirds landed
in the back yard. He and I
walked around the pond.
Pecan trees, he said. Pine, I answered.
Loose knit of forgetfulness-how to back
the car out of the driveway, how
to section grapefruit and whistle
while the serrated knife goes around.
I took that sweater to Goodwill
for a stranger to wear, perhaps a muscular
young man who can’t imagine words
he learned long ago-joker, trickster,
showing up someday to play their hand.
Winter Fields, Night Sky
No wildflowers, but cows
still grazing in pastures,
though not the ones we can see
from our house. Wheat coiled
and stored in barns. The color
of grasses along the road-
dark brown, some almost orange.
I spy wild turkeys we say are hiding
from Thanksgiving. Now I notice
the shapes of trees, and our hemlocks
are healthy this year. The wind
rattles the house, a noise
I can’t get used to. Christmas trees
in the distance-when cut, only small
stumps left. Through the years the tree
I’d be bereft without has stood shading no one.
This is our part-time house where I am that girl
again in a print dress, straight hair, wanting
to go down to the creek I’ve been warned
against. I go and put my toes in cold
water, lost in some unimaginable life.
Twilight coming, and the layered sky
darkening so I can’t tell clouds from mountains.
The trees disappear, and I am lost in night
until stars, one-by-one, then
entire constellations. I find my chart
and adjust it to month and day and time.
I make a wish. When I was small I was afraid
of sleeping alone, and would wake and cry.
Who came to whisper? Why
do I think I’ve earned a wish come true?
I sleep with the cover over my ear.
I hear what I want to. And although I am not alone
I turn the face of the clock away.