I noticed the picture on the mantle in my parent's house.
A metal frame, curls and cartouches,
Enclosing a woman, a lady in white.
A long white female line
Before a tapestry of stags and hounds, behind.
I knew it was Nanna
But had never seen her before like this.
Now, Pop-pop had been cut from the picture,
Had left her, Long ago and alone,
Her hand drifting off to the figer-tips
Where he once sat,
Some 40 years gone...
I knew it was Nanna.
But it was not the Nanna I knew.
That old woman,
Thinned by life,
Paled from white to ash;
That old woman,
...with a thump to the bottom and off the the chair
...off to the prickly chair to wait...
...to wait the sticky tick-tock, tick-tock hour 'til daddy returns...
"'Til your daddy returns to deal with you!"
This Nanna was white and soft,
She glowed in silver nitrate haze of dust and years,
Of dust and years before my birth.
This was not the Nanna who died in my hand,
Her finger-twigs wraithed around my plumping knuckles,
Her hands sobbing slowly silent...
Downstairs: Pop-pop in the kitchen
Gabriel Heater on the Radio.
Upstairs: I, dressed for church but not ready for it.
"Come, Puggy! Don't dawdle!
"Take my hand and stop acting like an I-dont-know-what! Goodness!"
Then taking hands and walking down. One step. Two steps.
Then pumping my hand,
"Oh. Oh. Oh. Larry! I can't see. Can't hear."
Words sliding into noises,
Noises going funny in the throat.
The head against the wall.
Nanna being funny.
For the first time in my life,
Nanna was funny!
I ran to Pop-pop and Gabriel Heater to tell:
Nanna is funny! Finally funny...
Now, Nanna was never funny.
Nanna of the dainty dishes,
Of dolies, delicate and starched...
Not funny at Carsonia Park...
...Where the roller coaster rolled without me...
"GOODNESS! On that thing!
I hear a man lost his head in the air up there,
Where he stood to show off!"
Sheared by the "Don't Stand" sign.
But Nanna was being funny now!
Of course, by then, my parents had heard
The beating on the wall down the stairs,
And the funny old woman
Sitting on her can
Being funny for the first time in their son's life...
Then Pop-pop out of the kitchen,
Through the house and
Up the stairs.
All of us meeting, there,
Two steps from the top,
I saw my Pop-pop's face...
...Only that: nose and eyes and jowls...
"Now you stop that, hear!"
Doctor Kotzen came and went.
Laid in the center of her bed,
Her bed with Pop-pop.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
Watched her breathe, and breathe,
And worried about laughing at her viewing,
I bit my cheeks,
Inside my mouth, bit down until I cried...
But did laugh a little.
Even though I had killed her,
I could still fear my laughter.
Pop-pop said: "Nanna was dying,
You was laughing," Pop-pop said.
"Goodness," Nanna would have said,
But not that beauty on the mantle in my parent's house,
That white, elegant, silver line of a woman,
The woman who smiled from 40 years gone,
Smiled at the snowy Pennsylvania Mountains over my shoulder,
Not that woman.
Her word would not have been "goodness..."
And I could lover her,
That woman on the mantle,
Honest to God, I could.
And I could forgive her,
For being funny Nanna,
Whom I killed
On the staires
With my laughter.
Copyright © 2000 Lawrence Santoro
This "poem" became a chapter in what is trying to be a novel.
If you want to read that chapter, click here.
If you want to know a bit more about the "reality", click here.
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