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My Grandfather's Money.

Warmer than summer, morefilling than food, sweeter than woman
 and dearer than blood, stronger than water and kinder than dove,
Say the name of the one you love.
PETER S. BEAGLE
Just when I thought it might finally be getting warmer
here, that sleet might stop eating our hair and summer
edge its way in, this ambush, saw and buzz, filling
my mailbox. Drowning my sleep. Souring my food
on its way down. Sharper than sugar and sweeter
than a knife. I know this sound. I have heard one woman
make it. She had to use her second throat. A rosewood box, dearer
to her than any other organ, faster in her hands than blood.
Here is the history of our girls: our skin heals stronger
each day it's peeled off. My great-grandfather had no use for
water.
He had corkscrews for fingers, clicking in the dark. It would be kinder
to say that. The truth is, they were fingers. I want to say a dove
cooed out a warning to his wife before they married, I want to say
it made her a present of its claws and wings, but really her name
meant "gracious," and no one armed her, and no one
heard her violin without him smoldering. Imagine a love
poisoned that long by envy, think of how such a love
would scream every time the metal of his flute grew warmer
under his lips. He practiced every day. One
spear of music gutting a house of two musicians. Summer
was his daughter's sweat when he called her name.
Winter was molding his son to soldierhood, pouring a cold steel filling
through the center of his spine. Decades later he only had to say,
quietly, at the dinner table, "Robert, your daughter is forking her
food
with two hands,"
 and my mother blanched and dove
beneath her chair. Again, our girls, his wife, his daughter, his
son's:
sweeter when our strings are tightened, higher, kinder;
clench hard enough and our silence will singe your ears. It was the
woman in the box, maybe, while he fucked and beat the violin. It was
the water standing by and shivering while he pumped the dearer
child at the well. Stories like these are stronger
than the liquor, which bows my taut veins now and makes my blood
shriek in a voice which is louder than the voice of blood.
Liquor is the first thing I think of to buy with my grandfather's
love,
with my grandfather's money, some sweet firework stronger
than his arm or his father's arm, warmer
than his hard-edged card telling me to cash the check fast, dearer
than the mellow of his voice in his advanced age, the one
softness I never trusted. I let my mouth water
and harshen with the heat of a whole summer
of spit I'd cast on him, this chance to become the woman
they'd most despise, worse than my mother's mother, whose name
means "bitter," further from them than my mother, whose kinder
name means "stranger." The noise of his money filling
my room, my pocket. The wish to burn, or shred, or drink it. No sweeter
scorch. And who do I most resemble now. Tyrant. What to say
to the money and its wild fear, fluttering against my wallet like a
dove in the wringer's grip. I get so scared I can't keep food
down, and now here we are, everything in me food
for the monster sneering out vengeance in my own blood.
Was it this quickly that my great-aunt dove
under her covers, is this rotten hatred what love
or forgiveness is supposed to save me from, and am I supposed to say
I want it to? I played the flute for ten years. Am I stronger
than the bottles I'd smash against these old men if I could,
sweeter
than this dizzy duet of flesh, the vile and the violin, warmer
than my own bones gone rigid? Whose glass am I filling?
I don't know any question whose answer could come dearer,
could unravel all the work I've done against all odds to be kinder
to myself. Of all the histories seared into me, only one
can bring me back from here. My great-grandfather, whose name
meant "child of the valley," in whose shadow his wife walked,
in whose
water she warped for close to a century, is dead. It took the woman
ten years to retrain herself. In her ninety-fifth summer
she gathered her family and friends and played a concert. That summer
I was young, but I remember. Cousins I'd never met passed me food
and shook my hand, and we stood, and clapped, while a woman
who should have been too old to circulate the blood
between her hands pulled from her instrument a sound sometimes like
water, sometimes like whiskey, and the notes dove
down and sliced apart, unlocking the case that had held her name
away from him her whole life, the one sharp shriek of love
he couldn't strangle. That's the sound. I know it. That one
sound. I would hear it with my ears cut out. I have nothing to say
to my grandfather's money. I will spend it, wisely, kinder
and slower than his father taught him, grow stronger
than any drink or drone, cough and crack a throat dearer
to me than revenge, a throat which is revenge, which is sweeter
for being two throats, three throats. Filling
the room with so much hot breath that it's warmer
than any of our blood has ever kept us,
kinder than any names have ever been.
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Author:Chamness, Fiona
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2019
Words:1018
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