Mink stoles and sparkling eyes—sparkling,
really—and hair curled to nearly edible
precision, and the pale satin taut across the bust
and the compact waist, from which flared
a modest skirt, with a brooch somewhere,
and a flower, and the dapper companion
in natty suit with oiled hair and posture
to match, what is it that glows so
about that time, a depression was just over
and a war just ahead, what was the secret,
they hadn’t had children yet—who would be
my parents—and we hadn’t visited them
in their Grant Street walkup with its platters
of fossilized candy and crowded leaden
ashtrays and the peeling painted wood toys
with bobbing heads on springs I loved,
and when it got late and I kept nodding off
I was carried up the stairs elaborately
framed in silver old photographs posed
along the walls and on the high bureau
that towered over me and thus was
a mystery, those stairs that eventually
held one of those mechanized seats
my grandmother rode to get to the bedroom—
the last time she came over to our house,
by then they were living in a retirement home,
I heard her mutter to herself
I can’t even eat a dinner,
I’m such a bother to you all,
I can’t stand myself anymore.

Photo by catherinecronin

Melissa Stein

MELISSA STEIN is the author of the poetry collection Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Southern Review, Harvard Review, New England Review, Best New Poets, and many other journals and anthologies.

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