Cora Pheifer’s funeral was today. In honour of that, here is a poem Erin wrote for her, almost five years ago:
Not a Tragedy
She takes the tin of green beans
into the shut heat of the bedroom.
She has stolen them. Her hands are tight.
Opening the tin will be the end
of all her blessings. Her little family
is asleep on the screenless porch—
two babies, her husband too sick to stand.
The heat holds them heavy. Even
the red-eared dog has grown so dull
he only lifts his narrow jaws a little
from the patience of his paws.
She has put on her best skirt
and walked eight miles into town—
through ruined crops and tall-grass scutch,
in a bad year for grasshoppers,
at the end of the Dust. The county clerk
assigns relief work, tinning green beans.
The August sun billows through plain windows.
The day boils on and the light thickens
to honey, goes red, goes sea-green, grey. Grey
with sweat and dust and charity, she walks
home. The scorched corn creaks into darkness.
She opens the tin and sees it—a grasshopper—
tough and brown-yellow as a bad bean,
long as bad luck, fat and shelled and jointed.
The next morning the black blizzard
slams up against the northwest wall.
By midday it is so dark she lights the lamp
above the supper table. She bows her head
above the bread without butter,
the beautiful green beans. As if on a ship
far out to sea, the lamp
sways. She prays. Tomorrow
falls the long slow blessing of the rain.
My grandmother. The beginning
of the story.
Vivian and the Dancing Christmas Trees
So, I’ve got the Christmas letter put together earlier this week, and sent out a good chunk of the envelopes yesterday; all the Canadian addresses, in fact: 139 of them.
This involved me going down to the postal outlet at a nearby Shoppers Drug Mart to purchase stamps and apply them individually to each envelope. Fortunately, I’d sealed the envelopes the night before. Of course there’s a lineup. So I buy a roll of 100 first-class Canadian stamps, plus four booklets of ten, and start applying. Fortunately, they’re pre-glued, so I don’t have to lick and stick.
Vivian is with me, sitting in the child’s seat of the shopping cart, quietly watching the world go by but probably looking a little bored. The post office attendant takes pity on her, coos over her, and then says, “hey, girlie, look at this!” and pulls over a fabric-covered Christmas tree, about a foot tall, with a goofy face on it. She presses a button, and the Christmas tree starts to bop back and forth to a Christmas carol.
Vivian takes one look at the bopping Christmas tree, and then curls up in her seat, hides her face, and howls. I have to pick her up and hold her while she buries her face in my shoulder, the post office attendant apologizing profusely. The remainder of the envelopes are stamped using my left hand alone.
Well, at least the attendant meant well. And I don’t begrudge Vivian either. Rejecting the bopping Christmas tree like that shows good taste.