MY GRANDFATHER ONLY WEARS BROWN
And he hasn’t told anyone he loves them
since the war (the real one, as he calls it,
when he shook on the coast of Normandy).
The closest we ever got was when he built us
a dollhouse—beige shingles, brown shutters,
green carpet in the bedrooms.
He inscribed it To K & M From Gramps
With Love,as though love, like living room or hallway,
was another feature.
He collects vacuum cleaners,
picks them up off the side of the road
before the trash men arrive, fixes them,
speaks of plans to sell.
He’s taken out all the furniture in his dining room
where the twenty or more vacuums
now stand like soldiers.
My grandmother’s thimble collection
He has never eaten seconds,
not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas
when most of us reach for thirds or fourths.
When waitresses ask him how he’d like
his burger cooked, he says,
My grandfather hates the taste of meat.
Lasagna he’ll eat and call “edible.”
Food is food, he says,
but the clerks at the Route 1 Burger King
know him by name.
He admits that the French fries
make his ankles swell,
but then claims that eating his entire
birthday cake in two days
actually lowers his blood sugar.
He has the numbers to prove it.
Like a suicidal, he threatens
to stand in front of a bus
or stop taking his insulin.
It’s all talk: my mother says she grew up
in fear that he would die by forty.
Over the hill means under the ground,
he’d say over spaghetti.
Now, at 86, he’s even bought his own casket,
shows us the picture in the catalogue
like it’s a new car or a time share he’s considering.
I picture it locked in the basement
among the aisles of canned food
that should have been thrown out
long before my grandmother died.
My mother rolls her eyes at the pamphlet,
but later says she is relieved that he’s given up on
Just bury me in a bag, or
When I go, I want a drive-thru wake.
When my grandmother was alive,
the two of them would argue in front of us,
right over the potato chips.
His voice would be unyielding:
I didn’t say that, Lucille.
But as soon as she was gone,
the first day after her last night
in the last nursing home,
the pictures began to go up—
her cutting the cake on their 50th anniversary,
her face at 25.
He tells us that during the war,
he bought two bottles of Chanel No. 5,
shipped one to his mother, the other to his girlfriend.
The one to the girlfriend broke
on its way to America, he says,
and glances at a wedding photo
that I have never seen before,
guilt glimmering like shrapnel in his eyes.
–from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
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