Inheriting My Grandmother's Nightmare

By Anne Stevenson b. 1933 Anne Stevenson
Consider the adhesiveness of things
       to the ghosts that prized them,
the "olden days" of birthday spoons
       and silver napkin rings.
Too carelessly I opened
       that velvet drawer of heirlooms.
There lay my grandmother's soul
begging under veils of tarnish to be brought back whole.

She who was always a climate in herself,
       who refused to vanish
as the nineteen-hundreds grew older and louder,
       and the wars worse,
and her grandchildren, bigger and ruder
       in her daughter's house.
How completely turned around
her lavender world became, how upside down.

And how much, under her "flyaway" hair,
       she must have suffered,
sitting there ignored by the dinner guests
       hour after candlelit hour,
rubbed out, like her initials on the silverware,
       eating little, passing bread,
until the wine's flood, the smoke's blast,
the thunderous guffaws at last roared her to bed.

In her tiny garden of confidence,
       wasted she felt, and furious.
She fled to church, but Baby Jesus
       had grown out of his manger.
She read of Jews in the New Haven Register
       gassed or buried alive.
Every night, at the wheel of an ambulance,
she drove and drove, not knowing how to drive.

She died in '55, paralyzed, helpless.
       Her no man's land survived.
I light my own age with a spill
       from her distress. And there it is,
her dream, my heirloom, my drive downhill
       at the wheel of the last bus,
the siren's wail, the smoke, the sickly smell.
The drawer won't shut again. It never will.

Source: Poetry (May 2007).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

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May 2007
 Anne  Stevenson


Born in Cambridge, England, Anne Stevenson moved between the United States and the United Kingdom numerous times during the first half of her life. While she considers herself an American, Stevenson qualifies her status: “I belong to an America which no longer really exists.” Since 1962 she has lived mainly in the U.K., including Cambridge, Scotland, Oxford, and, most recently, North Wales and Durham.

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