Letters – Poem by Tamara Keeney

My wonderful sister Tamara sent me this poem to post on here.


My grandmother lost herself in letters and syntax and grapes that refused to ripen, waiting for my grandfather to come back and rebuild their charred house, to hang the Jesus holograph photo in the kitchen. She waited for us to come back for her empty yellow high chair she glued to the ceiling and for her low oak branch that hoisted us onto thrones and prison cells.

Her letters reversed themselves on paper as they traveled across state lines. She revealed truths of songs turned to scissors and leaves turned to cats and still I replied, writing each letter in straight lines, dousing the corners in chardonnay and licorice. I admitted great secrets in whispers and told her of my sexual conquests with other women I had accidentally fallen down for.

She said I was her favorite and sent a slice of doughy apple pie inside cat-figured salt and pepper shakers. She explained her green thumb was cut and wouldn’t stop bleeding on the apple tree my grandfather planted in his lungs.

I dribbled the pie along my windowsill and wrote that the cats were well-fed and keeping the paprika in check. I asked if she missed my father fishing in the pool of wire and trout and God and screwdrivers, if she knew he sat long nights in front of fires eating cherry tree branches, if she could write and explain his father was hammering and painting and hanging and fishing for brook trout.

She scribbled my father’s name and let the pencil find the side of the paper then take over. It sketched water lilies stretching off the page, notes deflating and missing the paper’s lines, locks without keys, bowls of plastic bananas, apples, pears. It snuggled in the white spaces and bent and tore her Ts and Ns and Es until it collapsed off the page and table to rest.

She apologized and explained her thoughts were runny and smelled like new books. She remembered a small girl who once climbed her oak tree and plucked winter branches off to paint leaves on the ends.  She asked if I remembered—the girl who donned a summer dress and jumped from the low branch, flapping frozen branches in each hand as she fell.


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