WHEN BABCIA CAUGHT HER BREATH
The first summer we owned the camp,
we brought my grandmother,
who wore the same one-piece floral bathing suit
each day. I said no, but she took the broom
outside, swatted webs
from the clapboards, tried to reach the eaves.
“Babcia, please! Come by the water,”
but she bent near the foundation blocks and posts,
pinching and pulling weed heads between rough
peasant fingers, the strong lake breeze
blowing her white hairs, mad dance
of dandelion fluff holding on.
Unbending herself slowly, she swore
in Polish, shuffled to the wood’s edge, tossed
ripped roots on Canada Mayflower,
Indian pipe, a Pink Lady’s Slipper.
“Come, now,” I said. She finally sat in the Adirondack
beside me, her tanned, bony chest
rising and falling, the sweetness of breath.
Silent, she stared at this lake before her. And me, I inhaled
its strange newness in her name: The waves
against rip-rap. The wild mint smell. The nuthatches
scribing arcs about pine-bark.
And, on the water, whitecaps drunk with the passing.
She took this in and more,
then said, simply, “I can’t believe
it’s almost over.”
Author's Commentary: The last line of this poem was its inspiration. My grandmother, a lifelong worker who was anything but sentimental, shocked me one morning when she spoke these very words. She had never said anything like it before that moment and never did again after it. I had to capture it in a poem.
SOME HARD TALK ABOUT DEATH
Such hard-hatted construction workers we are,
in that great spinning drum,
pouring concrete talk of our deaths onto the rebar of words,
into the wooden frame of sentences,
aggregate discussion finally giving shape
to the inevitability of our remains.
Yes, decisions are supposed to set and grow hard,
but maybe the temperature or humidity is wrong today.
We agree on fire, at least—the impossible Fahrenheits,
the Christian moksha of ash and bone chip,
but you want us on a hill,
in your hometown, beside your parents.
Knowing I’ll go first, my inner fire begins to flutter,
begins to feel the thinning oxygen of emigrants strewn across distant ranges
far from the smell of rain and sea,
far from the comfort of soft-bubbling tidal flats.
This is just soot in a box, we’re talking, you remind me, returning
the conversation to the set and cure
of a world without our points of view.
But I’m already in a box of cremains, feeling the pinch of its crevices,
hearing the hollow thumps—the cold weight of Connecticut dirt
dropping from spade-cast skies as I inhale the panic.
No, I say. Better you brace yourself on a ledge of rock nosing the Sound,
shoes bound by barnacles, wind at your bereft back. Better you heave me
into a brief black vortex of spinning regret,
my ashes heady with one last westerly, spinning their sweet lies,
settling like gray plankton on the breast of the Atlantic.
Then I can glint like salt confetti beneath the sun.
I can listen as the gulls’ calls break up and diffuse. I can release
myself to the cold frontier of wet liberation
while, back on the receding shore, the bright world opens up
like a Winslow Homer: You in a cheerful blue. The whistling box.
Your windblown hair like Shakers in rapture.
Author's Commentary: When my wife and I sat down to discuss our final wishes, the conversation quickly grew complicated. I believe this is the problem with all discussions of our own demise--we use logic that, in the end, won't really apply. This is equal parts funny and sad.
Ken Craft is a middle school teacher and a writer living west of Boston. His poems have appeared in The Writer's Almanac, Verse Daily, Gray's Sporting Journal, Off the Coast, Spillway, Slant, Angle Journal of Poetry, The High Window, and numerous other journals and e-zines. The Indifferent World, his first poetry collection, was released in 2016 by Future Cycle Press.