My grandfather pits olives,
Thumbing their insides out.
He caresses the air over a turntable
That spins Caruso's voice
Out to the corners of the room,
Then reels it around the spindle,
Back into the pool of black grooves.
Grandfather laughs at the radio
As it blares the old songs, the old stories.
I see him eat sausage, drink wine—
He crosses knife and fork over the plate,
Holds his red glass reverently.
In short, he does all the things
That old Italians are supposed to do
In the hard-won comfort of the new world.
My mind leaps to such imaginings
When I sit and stare at his mandolin,
The dusty teardrop shape
With a hole in its hull
To let the stilled voice out.
After the Funeral
She sits at the kitchen table,
With light streaming in
Through the window behind her,
Bending through the untouched
Glass of water beside her,
Touching down brightly on the dog's head
As he sits panting at her knees,
Waiting to be fed.
And maybe the phone is ringing,
But she doesn't hear it
Because the sun through the window
Is blinding her to everything—
Even the flaming white notecards before her.
She extinguishes each one with black ink,
Filling in the blank sheets
With her mother's name.
My grandmother swings the bag of bagels
By its plastic tail
And tosses it to me.
She is young tonight,
And I know that she will not complain
About the birds that nest in the air conditioner,
Or tell me stories of my grandfather—
How his skin went yellow in the last days,
How, even now, in bed,
The air beside her grows warm,
And the chair in the parlor creaks
With no one in it.
Instead she chatters about the living:
Her sister and nieces who live next door,
The man who came to rake the leaves today,
My mother and father, who are away on vacation.
I refocus on the kitchen,
Its floor of green and yellow squares.
When I was little, I lived here.
After nightmares, I would creep down the stairs
And wait for my grandmother to find me
Cowering in the carpeted dark.
She would lead me to this same kitchen
And give me a cookie
Shaped like a duck or a clown or a bear,
To help me get back to sleep.
There is no little girl
Under the stairs anymore.
She is grown now,
And drives across town
To see her grandmother,
Who still feeds her and says
It's a sin to waste even a crumb.