SAMPLES FROM THE BOOK
Copyright © 2022 by Catherine DeNunzio
Raised like a scar, my grandfather’s name girdles
the century-old milk bottle I am holding.
Inside, a snakeskin.
In its day, the bottle held milk from his cows.
Late summers, the family men moved
bales from field to wagon to hayloft.
With relentless drive, and strength born
of strength used, my uncle tossed the bales
as a child might toss blocks into a storage box.
As a boy, his vocal and motor tics
meant he could not concentrate in school.
Some afternoons, he would be sent home.
But in the field and barn,
with the work horses and the cows,
all that neural firing was channeled.
Is it true the snakeskin came
from the barn and that he found it
on a rafter in the loft? True,
partly true—stories get passed on.
Maybe just their bones matter anyway.
And the directions encoded in the genes.
So we tell the stories
that bring my uncle back to us.
So my sons tic, too.
Harder these days for such boys
coiled with itch and energy,
with no set way to wriggle out of their skins.
Holding On to Him
He is shaving in the mirror by the open window
when the sun catches a strand of hair upon his chest,
glinting silver among the rest.
She murmurs. He turns.
She finds the strand, follows it,
grazing his skin with her fingertip.
She asks if there are more she has not noticed,
finds several woven through the rush of hair
across his groin. Within her,
something tightens, throat to navel.
The light above the mirror hums.
From the shaded cliffs, their sons’
voices drift through the window screen;
but she is thinking of the day
when she will see him slowly scuff his way
into the den in moccasins;
reach for the crossword on the table;
bend, pat the dog, gently tug one velvety sable
ear, then the other; at the window, check
the outside temperature, turn, head for their bedroom;
reappear dressed the same as yesterday to resume
the chore he’d set aside last evening. Later, she watches
as he walks down the driveway for the mail.
He pauses—thinking of the orchard, she can tell.
She gazes until she can see him clearly again—
shoulders square, hair not yet white—
watches for signs, tosses in their bed all night.
Like me, others might recognize
your intellect, incisive and relentless.
They, too, might sense your sweetness.
And they, like me, might be drawn
to your square shoulders and brown eyes.
But only I am witness
to your latest obsessions—your discovery, for example,
of fresh fruit rather than preserves
on your peanut butter toast,
followed by your treatise
on berries versus stone fruits
and your reveries on the taste of each
as compared with that of their jam counterparts.
And only I—freshly showered and
having dropped my wet towel into the washer,
only I—having grabbed a cold, ripe
watermelon from the fridge beside it
(the largest, roundest one we’ve had this season),
only I—upon entering the kitchen
naked, holding the specimen like a trophy,
only I get your applause,
Well. There’s a farm calendar photo.
Since my husband’s heart attack, I’ve learned to split wood
for the outdoor fire pit we sit by early evenings
after soup and therapeutic walks.
My son, whom I raised on he or she,
had shrugged his shoulders. You can
do it, Mom. C’mon. I’ll show you how.
What I’d hoped to instill in him is there.
But does he carry, too, the errors
a first-time parent makes?
I worry that he must.
My husband thinks I’m too hard on myself.
Look at him. He’s happy.
Sometimes at 3 a.m. when I
can’t sleep, my errors trouble me.
But I can’t know the answer to what if,
and I am tired of those nights.
So I build and light a fire
before night falls,
sit before it with my healing husband,
and pray my failures into smoke
that dissipates and falls to ash,
while the wood I split,
with my son’s encouragement, fuels
a bonfire tenacious, purposeful, contained.
Serve it under your magnolia
to your sons,
to your daughter-in-law,
to your small grandson
and to your husband
just home from the hospital.
Think of your mother
wrapped now in papery skin
who called you to the window
when you were small
to see birds and foxes
and took you to the high meadow
behind your house
and showed you corn cobs
the farmer left for deer.
The cake is good,
the blossoms magnificent.
You pass on what and while you can.
I cannot visualize your heart as it appears in the film
of the intervention that saved your life.
I cannot picture the still-dying cells sloughing off,
or the inflammation that will not calm for weeks;
but I can see my hand circling
your warm chest, soothing and cooling
the still-hot embers of your damaged ventricle,
my intent running like a current
over your still-beating muscle—
new cells, new cells, new cells—
as your heart pumps its love-rich blood,
as your strong body, your stubborn will,
your joyful self rebuild what was
so starved for oxygen two Saturdays ago.
Last Paddle at Griswold Point
In the distance, a tepee-like structure,
its deadwood limbs bracing one another.
My brothers and I shore the kayaks
but keep our life vests on. Before long
the winds will gather, and we will have
to paddle hard to make it past the Sound.
John gets there first and calls us in.
It’s a maypole with driftwood streamers.
The skeleton of a giant parasol.
An idea of shelter, as real as the bed-sheet tents
we built when we were children.
Although decades have passed since then,
it seems to us unfettered play incarnate, trimmed
with finds: a ping-pong ball, impaled; the bleached skull
of a laughing gull; a swimmer’s goggles; the shell
of a horseshoe crab aimed towards the water; a blue whelk
wedged at the peak like a Christmas tree topper.
Now, before the waves begin their capping in the distance,
we hurry to add what has caught our fancy.
John, with his sculptor’s eye, has picked
a hinged crab claw, proof that form follows function.
Charles hangs a miniature yellow airplane,
its pilot dreaming of adventure.
I nudge into a chink an intricate seedpod,
a reminder that I can always find intrigue in Nature.
Days later, rinsing dishes
at the kitchen sink, I picture the scene.
Before long, the winds
will turn as dangerous as the waters.
Who knows what we will find
if we return a year from now?
But waiting outside my house
this late September day: undiscovered treasures
my grandchild will bring to me,
before snow lays itself across all we see,
between us and whatever lies ahead.