by Gail Peck
Spring in Virginia
Take down the curtains, ease open the windows, sweep the porch and clean the swing. The evenings will be cool for sitting on the porch. Everyone longs to be outside. The coal buckets have been taken to the bin. The birds seeming to chirp, “Get up, get up,” while it’s still dark. So, I do and make coffee, the best smell in the world. I sit for a while, writing letters or reading as warmth spreads throughout the rooms. I’ll move sweaters and coats to the back of the closet when the dogwood blooms.
The garden will need to be planted, and all will be shared with others as it’s far too much for one. Lettuce will appear first. I can taste wilted salad already. Slowly the squash vines will crawl along the ground, and the green beans too. At harvest, neighbors will help by stringing beans, shelling peas. We’ll catch up after the long winter.
Fall in the Mountains
The scarecrow has done his work and now stands useless in the orange and gold field. Perhaps the crows weren’t totally fooled. The air has changed, and there’s morning dew. I keep a coat on a hook by the door. Often, I pull the rocker to the sun shining on the braided rug.
I’ll make a wreath from the milkweed pods along the road and hang it on the front door. The first frost will kill the ferns. Across the way, cows move lazily up and down the pasture. They moo solemnly when their calves are taken away.
This is my day, reading by the fire. You’d think time had stopped. Snow will soon fall, and the stars disappear. On clear nights, they seem to pop out one by one. This time of year, the moon is framed in my bathroom window. I think of the nocturnal animals and the owl’s call. A long wait for the ground to thaw. Then, one day I’ll walk out and see the first budding of that lovely green, tender in its birth.
Early light fractures the trees on this winter morning of the new year. From my chair, I can see my ferns on this second-floor balcony, and they are still living, along with the two palms. I could stand outside and lean over the rail and almost touch the one large leafless oak.
Nearby, they are clearing land. Where have the deer have scattered? City life—at least I’m set back far enough from the traffic that I can enjoy quiet if I’m inside.
Sometimes a train whistle takes me back to my childhood when I ran to wave to the conductor. I’d read of far-away places different from the hills and creeks I knew. I had sat on a bank and watched the clear water flowing over stones. When the light grew faint, I knew it was time to go home. The sun edging closer to the earth, taking its fire to bed.
Cooking with My Grandmother
The kitchen was so small she had to roll out the dough on the dinette table—the old laminate kind she’d often cover with an oilcloth. All the windows would be open in summer due to the heat. And since washing clothes was a chore, she always wore an apron, and hers had to stretch across her stomach, the only big thing about her.
I would never be able to make biscuits as she did by “feel.” I’d watch her take a water glass and turn it upside down, and cut the biscuits, and she’d let me do some too. I couldn’t wait for them to brown and come out of the oven. The butter was the old-fashioned mold kind, and the jam had been canned by some neighbor. You could use the leftover biscuits for tomato sandwiches. I’d walk the rows of the garden and smell the musty green vines. By the side of the garden, the old dog lay and wagged his tail a bit, acknowledging your presence. He, too, happy for the sun.
The Virginia winter was easing away, and we’d started gathering on the porch when neighbors stopped by. I was always interested in what the grown-ups had to say. I’d already fallen in love with words and couldn’t wait to open a new pack of paper. What was I going to write about? My life, of course. It didn’t matter that I was only eight years old. I could make up a story that my father had never left, or my baby brother taken to a place for the feeble-minded.
My mother was home now after visiting a friend in Spartanburg. Her name was Marie, and I wished mine were too. She has black hair and light blue eyes, and a small waist, unlike my grandmother who has a belly. My mother liked to sit in the swing reading glamour magazines. What did she wish for? To travel to far-away places?
I would stay on the porch until dark. I had night fears and didn’t want to go to bed. If I cried out, my mother or grandmother would come and lie down with me. I’d keep opening my eyes because I knew whichever one was there was waiting to slip off to the kitchen to drink evening coffee and smoke. I heard their voices and tried to understand what they were saying, especially if it was about my father. What did he look like now? I would pull out a photograph from a drawer. Everyone said I looked like him. I just had to write the words, and all would come true. He’d come back to get us, he’d take us to a new house where maybe even a dog waited, and I would get to name the dog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gail Peck is the author of nine collections of poetry. Her poetry and prose has been published in numerous journals including The Southern Review, Rattle, Comstock Review, Brevity, and Nimrod. She is the winner of the 2020 Irene Blair Honeycutt Lifetime Achievement Award.
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