Cherry-ripe: dark sweet burlats, scarlet reverchons
firm-fleshed and tart in the mouth
bigarreaux, peach-and-white napoléons
as the harvest moves north
from Provence to the banks of the Yonne
(they grow napoléons in Washington
State now). Before that, garriguettes,
from Périgord, in wooden punnets
afterwards, peaches: yellow-fleshed, white,
moss-skinned ruby pêches de vigne.
The vendors cry out “Taste,” my appetite
does, too.. Birdsong, from an unseen
source on this street-island, too close for the trees:
it’s a young woman with a tin basin
of plastic whistles moulded like canaries.
– which children warbled on in Claremont Park
one spring day in my third year. Gísela
my father’s mother, took
me there. I spent the days with her
now that my mother had gone back to work.
In her brocade satchel, crochet-work, a picture-book
for me. But overnight the yellow bird
whistles had appeared
and I wanted one passionately.
Watching big girls play hopscotch at curb’s edge
or telling stories to V.J
under the shiny leaves of privet hedge
were pale pastimes compared to my desire
Did I hector one of the privileged
warblers to tell us where they were acquired?
– the candy store on Tremont Avenue
Of course I don’t call her Gísela.
I call her Grandma.. “Grandma will buy it for you,”
– does she add “mammele “
not letting her annoyance filter through
as an old-world friend moves into view?
The toddler and the stout
grey-haired woman walk out
of the small park toward the shopping streets
into a present tense
where what’s ineffaceable repeats
I dash ahead, new whistle in my hand
She runs behind. The car. The almost-silent
thud. Gísela, prone, also silent, on the ground.
Death is the scandal that was always hidden.
I never saw my grandmother again
Who took me home? Somebody did. In
the next few days (because that afternoon
and night are blank) I don’t think I cried, I didn’t
know what to ask (I wasn’t three), and then I did, and
“She’s gone to live in Florida” they said
and I knew she was dead.
A black woman, to whom I wasn’t nice,
was hired to look after me.
Her name was Josephine – and that made twice
I’d heard that name: my grandmother’s park crony
was Josephine. Where was Grandma; where was Gísela ?
she called me to her bench to ask one day.
I say, “She’s gone to live in Florida.”
© Marilyn Hacker