My grandmother, a wisecracker,
burned brightly at the head of the table
on our summer visits.
My parents blistered and turned away,
missing her winks as she wagged
her tongue at my mother
and called my father
by his last name.
I indulged her with endless games
of cards, sneaking sips of beer,
taking the dollar bills she slipped me,
the butterscotch candy
and years later, her diamond ring.
My parents’ anger oozed and we’d leave
before her ginger cookies ran out.
All the long drive home
I was the outcast.
We should have left you there.
Now I stand beside her
and pat her cold hand.
I’ve never seen her quiet before,
believe it cannot last.
I’m not moving until she does.
But my parents, staring
at their shoes, insist it’s time to go.
We drive straight to a seaside park
where I picnicked as a girl
and raspberries still grow wild.
“Those could be poison,”
warns my mother.
But I ignore her,
fill my mouth with fruit
and give up my grandmother
as the berries give up
their skins. I smash them
between my teeth,
one after another,
and choke it all down.
—from Rattle #26, Winter 2006