Another day goes down
on the old house I am lucky
enough to live in. On the radio a voice
remembers a farm house and suddenly
I do too, a farm house where written words
had no taker, no easy place to pile in corners
or at the sides of beds. This was the place
of Russian grandparents who could neither
read nor write. How odd, now, to save
their house with words.
There’s the corner for the parakeet cage, hung tall
as from a floor lamp, fluttering racket, bird let loose
to flap in your hair. Long table for beer bottles,
pumpernickel bread, head cheese, duck’s blood
soup, horseradish. The kitchen burned with pepper.
Sun blaze of Michigan summer through
the tall windows. Beets from the garden,
bootlegger renter in the basement.
There’s the gas stove where my long hair caught fire.
First the burning smell, then the knowledge.
Hair singed, brittle, broken by the kitchen towel
my grandmother grabbed me with. Let loose
the bird. It never made a mess like this.
Or a mess like the day the bootlegger threw
the mash out in the yard where the ducks
found it, ate it, fell down drunk, were assumed
dead and plucked by my grandmother.
They woozed back to life about the time
grandpa came home, bleary from having
a few beers himself, and found the ducks naked,
curving through the yard.
Long before I came along, destined
to catch fire in the kitchen, my father shot
pheasants from the attic window, the same
attic where, on his way to being able
to fix anything, he took his mother’s sewing
machine apart, was spanked hard for his curiosity,
then he put it all back together and started
the treadle whirring for the next
twenty years. Out back along the tracks
in the tall weeds my 4’11” grandma once waited in the dark,
big stick in hand, waited for the man who said
her sons had stolen his apples. Watch him try
to get home, drunk as a duck, as she waylays him,
tells him don’t you ever say it again and he never does.
I have not abandoned this house, even after
I moved away, the grandparents died and the house
sold. It is mine, jealously, even after new people
bought it, burned it down for the insurance,
left it to become flame and fragment. It is mine,
obsessively. I’ll never let the bootlegger out of
the basement. I keep my grandmother always
climbing her footstool to reach the tall white cabinets.
My grandfather is forever walking home
along the railroad tracks that edge Asbury Park,
coal in his pockets, apples in his lunch pail,
suspenders carving an X into his back.
Linda Andrews’ poetry and stories have been featured in numerous journals and reviews including Calyx, Nimrod, Spindrift, Poetry Northwest, Crab Creek Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, CutBank, Willow Springs, Midwest Quarterly, Gadfly,and Seattle Review. A book of her poems, Escape of the Bird Women, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 1998 and received a Washington State Governor’s Writers Award the following year. She is the recipient of a Ucross Foundation Fellowship residency, an Artist Trust fellowship grant, a Vernon M. Spence Poetry Prize, and an Academy of American Poets Prize through the University of Washington. Andrews holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Michigan State University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. For breadwinning purposes, she has worked as a speech writer, co-author and editor for non-profit health care executives in Seattle. In this capacity, she has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Health Care Resources, American Pharmacy and others. She is currently on the faculty of Walla Walla Community College and teaches writing and literature.