Nana's Ghost Keeps the Past in the Past
Nana kept one blurry portrait on the bedroom wall,
in a corner between window and closet. Her father,
with his wooly mustache and dark bowler hat,
held a cigar between thumb and finger, a mug of beer
in his other fist. He stood before a pile of dark dirty snow.
Smoke from a chimney the only detail so clear
I always imagined I smelled it
Sometime later, he took them all down to the city,
those years of Fridays
when he spent everything he earned,
on tobacco and beer.
Someone told me—Uncle Jack?—
he belt-whipped his daughters
if they shamed him coming home after dark.
If Nana had another photo, cracked and sepia
colored, of her husband, maybe from their wedding
day, I never saw it. How old was I when I first
heard of him? When did someone solve for me,
using a sharp pencil on the edge of The Seattle Times,
the puzzle of surnames, the relationships of blood?
A fall from stringing wire on telephone poles out by Northgate,
broke Nana’s first husband, took him all of a sudden —
left four children to feed and one still unborn in her belly—
Nana, when you were young? always got us hushed.
They were all so sure she would burst
remembering such sorrow, break like a reed,
so she never had a chance to say.