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The Dry Mountain Air.

 Our Grandma Dahling arrived from the train station In a limousine:
an old Lincoln touring car With immense, black, shiny, rounded fenders
And a silver ornament of Nike on the hood. She wore a long black coat
and pearl-grey gloves. White hair, very soft white, and carefully
curled. Also rimless glasses with thin gold frames. Once in the house,
having presented ourselves To be hugged completely, the important thing
Was to watch her take off her large, black, Squarish, thatched, and
feathered confection of a hat. She raised both hands above her head,
elbows akimbo, Lifting the black scrim of a veil in the process, Removed
a pin from either side, and lifted it, Gingerly, straight up, as if it
were a saucer of water That I must not spill, and then she set it down,
Carefully, solicitously even, as if it were a nest Of fledgling birds
(which it somewhat resembled), And then there arrived, after she had
looked at the hat For a moment to see that it wasn't going to move,
The important thing. Well, she would say, well, now, In a musical
German-inflected English, touching together Her two soft, white,
ungloved hands from which emanated The slightly spiced, floral scent of
some hand lotion That made the hands of great-grandmothers singularly
soft, And regard us, and shake her head just a little, but for a while,
To express her wonder at our palpable bodies before her, And then turn
to her suitcase on the sea-chest in the hall, Not having been
transferred yet to her bedroom by my father Who had hauled it up the
long, precipitous front stairs; She flipped open the brass clasps and
the shield-shaped lock She had not locked and opened the case to a
lavender interior From which rose the scent of chocolate, mingled
faintly With the smell of anise from the Christmas cookies That she
always baked. But first were the paper mats From the dining car of the
California Zephyr, adorned With soft pastel images of what you might see
from the Vista Car: Grand Canyon, Mount Shasta, a slightly wrinkled
Bridal Veil Falls, and, serene, contemplative Almost, a view of Lake
Louise, intimate to me because, Although it was Canadian, it bore my
mother's name. My brother and I each got two views. He, being the
eldest, Always took Grand Canyon, which I found obscurely terrifying And
so being second was always a relief. I took Lake Louise And he took Half
Dome and the waterfall, and she looked surprised That we were down to
one and handed me the brooding angel, Shasta. And then from under layers
of shimmery print dresses, she produced, as if relieved that it
wasn't lost, the largest chocolate bar That either of us had ever
seen. Wrapped in dignified brown paper, On which ceremonial, silvery
capital letters must have announced-- I couldn't read--the sort of
thing it was. These were the war years. Chocolate was rationed. The
winy, dark scent rose like manna in the air and filled the room. My
brother, four years older, Says this never happened. Not once. She never
visited the house On Jackson Street with its sea air and the sound of
fog horns At the Gate. I thought it might help to write it down here,
That the truth of things might be easier to come to On a quiet evening
in the clear, dry, mountain air. 

ROBERT HASS served as poet laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997; he is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The poems in this issue all appear in his forthcoming book, Time and Materials, Poems 1997-2005 (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007).
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:fourteen poems: A Special APR Supplement
Author:Hass, Robert
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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