Onions at My Father’s Funeral

As they were lowering

his coffin into the ground

beside my mother’s grave

where the grass had regrown—

my body leaned and followed,

my eyes peered into that hole,

the scent of pine rose up,

mixing with that of wild onion

underfoot, and I saw her

again, in the dim light of memory

peeling back the papery skins,

dicing and chopping the bulbs

on a kitchen board, all the while

wiping her eyes with the back

of her hand, a weeping without grief

or a grief awaiting a cause.

My Mother’s Charm Bracelet Passed Down

It was one of her favorites:

a gold chain with miniature charms—

and unreliable latch, each

one commemorating a birthday:

a tiny calendar with a sapphire,

a horseshoe, stove, and skeleton key.

Now, I hold it to the light, inspecting it

for flaws, remembering her wrist,

how it would bend while scrubbing

a pot, or threading a needle,

or waving from a distance, as I

see her now, after so many years,

face behind the cap’s veil,

no-nonsense shoes, teased bouffant

and body tangled in shadows,

her arm raised, saying goodbye,

the links still jingling.

Special Occasion

My mother knew the value of a dollar.

Mornings, she rode the Z-2 bus

to the bank where she worked

as a statistical clerk, punching in

her time card, at a quarter past eight.

She ate lunch at a greasy counter

of Kresgee’s Five and Dime,

always a tuna on rye, with a free

orange soda and two straws.

At home, she was all business

paying piled up bills and cutting out

store coupons from an old cigar box.

When she died, the fancy perfumes

she must’ve splurged on stayed untouched

in their crystal tombs. She was always

waiting for that special occasion.

Now, forty years later, I open one,

releasing the sweet reek of vinegar.

An Outfit to Bury Him In

Letting myself into the apartment,

I see the neon hands of the clock

keeping slow time, the smogged

water glasses left in the kitchen sink,

afew grocery coupons stacked up

on the table. Then, opening the closet

I take out the extra-wide black suit,

a starched blue shirt and striped tie

on a wooden hanger and carefully

lay them on the bed, dusting off

the shoulders and smoothing down

the creases along the lapels,

then lifting up his good dress shoes,

should he be needing them again.

Judith Harris
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