Dusting the furniture in the house where I grew up
as a favor to my mother during my now-thrice
yearly visit, I follow the curve
of the mantle clock, slide my palm over the lip
of the washstand, trace the oak panels
of the icebox, scent of lemon oil, feel of damp
cotton, one of my old cloth diapers, in hand & tenderness
for things kept longer than me, in some cases
longer than forty-two years of marriage.
The piano stool where I pored over sheets
of Beethoven, Franz Gruber,
so she could have carols decking our halls
for the holidays, small offering
of a thimble brought back from Niagara Falls,
a rosewood Communion goblet
from Jerusalem where she tucked
a centimeter-long splinter that went into my
father. She saves things
to show me, the fired birdhouse
she bought for its odd pattern,
the fan pull made of teak and mahogany.
I even sweep the waxy cloth over the
top ledge of the spice rack
the way she taught me, the full length
of each walnut rocker runner like the back of my teeth.
When the sliver of varnished door
and raw wood went under my father’s nail bed,
my mother refused to touch it.
Even a sought doctor didn’t want to risk
damaging the nerves and sent them home to wait it out.
Vinegar soaks didn’t draw the foreign body forth.
Black paste of Ichthammol wouldn’t pull it.
Days passed, then weeks,
my father gingerly tapping
calculator figures. Nothing to do but let
his body resolve the issue.
My brother told my mother that morning
he was going to die today, to prepare her,
eyes closing to consolidate
energy for the effort of living a few more hours
In an act of infinite mercy
I had not known him to possess before,
my father bent and whispered into the narrowing focus
of his ear It’s okay, we will be okay,
as if the loveliest thing about human love
isn’t that it might be unconditional,
but that it has such good reasons.
A month after the splinter went in,
my mother called to say it presented itself
at the tip of Dad’s finger in Woodlawn
where they’d traveled to pick up walnut rockers
from a man who upholsters furniture.
“It didn’t break down at all,”
she told me, pinching the dry sliver, repeating herself,
uncomprehending how it pulled forth,
“as if it had never been
inside the body, made as it is
of some incredible percentage of water.”
Some ten year grief, spear of mahogany,
do not work loose from a body that has coagulated
such a fine ruby cradle for your serrated edges,
slick as the satin blanket lining I used to rub
against my lip until the seams tore
where the padded bone of my chewed thumb just fit.
In Case There Is No Way Back
One brother’s baby cheeks squirrel mashed potatoes, his hair a blonde bowl over his forehead. One
brother is the Cassell boy, white blonde and eleven, trapped beneath a tractor on fire. One brother
accidentally blows four hundred dollars through the barrel of a rifle. One brother tats a suspension
bridge over a surgery scar. One brother grows up to install lighting systems in Aspen houses whose
walls glow beige, purple to match the stereo. That same brother comes as a surprise, a measure of
loss during Scrabble, not a real brother, a reminder. One brother takes four punches in the arm,
brother-as-God in the mourning process. One brother kicks his legs behind him on the motorcycle
seat, hands stretched out before him on the handlebars. One brother’s boots land heavy on the
steps going to defend his sister’s honor. The youngest is a doll, sleeps in her closet on pillows and is
read to. The eldest can whistle the cows in.
Amy Wright is the nonfiction editor of Zone 3 Press and the author of three chapbooks, with her fourth forthcoming in spring 2014. Her work appears in a number of journals including Drunken Boat, American Letters & Commentary, Quarterly West, Bellingham Review, Brevity, Western Humanities Review, and the Southern Poetry Anthology. Originally from a dairy farm in southwestern Virginia, she now teaches in Tennessee. She was awarded a Peter Taylor Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop in 2012.