You could see Gramma’s house
from any classroom with a west-facing window.
So when you got sick, you made your way
across the street to the storm door
where she appeared, aproned and suspicious,
wondering why the nurse sent you
or if you needed to use the bathroom right away.
No matter the complaint,
your forehead wore her palm
and if you claimed a fever, you saw,
up close, her shriveled thumb fixing
a thermometer between your lips—
the finger made lame by a hatchet
meant for a hog’s hind foot.
And no matter the illness,
her remedy persisted. She fixed you
a collar: scrap of wool run under hot water
and sprinkled with camphor oil.
After pinning the wrap, she made a nest
of blankets on the couch, and next to it set a bowl:
the chipped one in which she kneaded bread.
With instructions not to move,
and too itchy for sleep, you watched
lazy shadows spread across family portraits
and listened for a line of school buses to rumble by.
Through all of it, you hoped Gramma would treat you
to a dish of the only snack she could offer:
popcorn floating in milk—soggy and delicious.
One overripe cucumber, snapped
from its prickly vine, makes two boats.
Pick only the ones with yeller ends, he’d taught them.
And when his day’s tinkering in the shed was done,
he walked his granddaughters to a row
where he’d already spotted the best
worst pickling variety in the garden.
Making a game of the hunt, he’d disapprove
of their choices until they found the one
he’d already selected. With their shadows in tow,
the girls took turns holding high their off-green trophy
and followed their grandfather back to his shed—
all glitter and rust and the sour smell of a mouse
dead in some forgotten trap—to watch him
open his freshly-oiled knife, with fingers
knobbed and dry, and slice the vegetable lengthwise.
Then, with a spoon reserved for such chores,
the girls scooped and scraped—the seeds
glistening in the meat—till each had a hull.
They taped sun-curled newspaper
to twigs: the Sunday comics, grain prices,
and obituaries all made fine sails.
Hope you left enough in the bottom, he’d say,
holding steady each girl’s hand as she planted the mast.
He let one sister steer the pickup to the Cedar,
the other on the trip back. At the river,
they argued the calmest spot, watched currents ribbon
along the shore, made note of eddies kicked up by rocks,
and as if it mattered, he stuck a spit-slicked finger high
in the fishy breeze. When it was time, he hollered
and the girls let go.