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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|Title Annotation:||fourteen poems: A Special APR Supplement|
|Publication:||The American Poetry Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2007|
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