A Shelf of My Grandmother’s Books

She had collected the Harvard Classics too,

in their dark green faux-leather covers, but I

have chosen the other set, from a publisher called Black’s,

bound in red cloth embossed with black and gold,

Smythe-sewn spine, small print, and rough-cut pages,

because the editors’ quirky choices–

they sometimes get it right, as with Shakespeare,

Hawthorne and Ibsen, Byron, Dostoevsky–

but Bret Harte?  And who the hell is Haggard?

But the randomness reminds me of her,

who without discrimination read

voraciously–romances, mysteries,

biographies, how-to books, the Bible–

often three books, or four, simultaneously.

Intelligent but from hard times, she’d never

been to college, though she dreamed of it,

wanted to write, took a correspondence

course in writing children’s stories, assignments

picked out on a little Olivetti,

sent in by mail,  and then her anxious wait

for the reader’s letters, her certificate.

She and I sometimes got on, sometimes

not so much; she made the move “back home”

when I was an independent teen,

not wanting all the attention she longed to give me.

Only later did I want to hear

her stories, and by then, it was hard–

her hearing had been badly damaged when she

worked on radios during the war, and a plane

took off unexpectedly when she

had forgotten her ear protection,

and her deafness grew worse and worse with age;

much later, an accident injured her eyes, and then

she become displaced in time, unsure

if she was speaking to me or to my father.

And then I felt remorse for my behavior,

regretful about what I might have learned.

Often I suspect that my love of books

comes from her, so upon her death,

the remembrance that I wanted was

a set of books reflective of the desire

for education that she always harbored.

Despite our conflicts and her flaws, despite

how she become impossible near the end,

I loved her, and I know she helped shape

the career path that I would take.

Perhaps her influence primed me to be a poet.


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper


At the kitchen table with my parents,

drinking coffee and looking out the window,

watching birds and morning sun on water,

Dad at one end in his pocket T-shirt,

Mom to the side still in her pink night dress,

We discuss the weather, nice for December.

Mom’s made me her take on French toast

after choosing yoghurt for herself;

Dad has a cigarette in lieu of food.

It’s a scene we’ve acted many times before,

its poignancy increasing as we age.

Last night, we watched a TV program

about the influence of Sherlock Holmes

on the development of forensic science;

Locard’s principle of exchange

says that with any objects making contact,

each of them leaves traces where it touches.

In me, my parents’ residue has seeded

a tolerance for difference even wider

than they could have intended, even imagined,

but what dust from me on them has settled?


Copyright 2013

T. Allen Culpepper