V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




                                                —for Sandra

How, mornings, beneath the basement stair
you'd crouch like 4 a.m. sun among grain sacks 
saved for dresses, while at a long trough sink 
your grandmother Christiansen washed her armpits and face 
and tied her stockings off above the knee 

so tight you thought her veins would burst.
And after nine months when mother failed 
to call you home, how you took to the yard, 
how you burrowed through low lilac boughs 
to read out-loud the Bible, Whitman, and the almanac 

in a straight chair dragged from the house, 
your high voice company till the men came back talking 
from the fields, having worked off the bacon 
and half-loaves of bread that they'd buttered like stropping 
a razor, making a table empty enough to drive them, 

and you were caroled to the kitchen, to the storeroom
underground with the tin sink and a yard of men 
scrubbing with their sleeves rolled up to the shoulder, 
how you listened to curse words they rattled off
like counting. At night, grandma taught you to cipher, 

not on fingers and toes like the men, and you tried hard, 
the limbs disappearing one by one, the brown arms, 
the white legs smelling like lye. And back home, that's how 
you minded your brothers: you'd go through your paces, 
multiplying, dividing, as good as gone.

© by Nicole Pekarske


Contributor's note
Next page
Table of contents
VPR home page