In memory of Barbara Jones, 1937-1943

On the sidewalks of Carteret Street we gathered chestnuts, broke
open their shells, cradled the shiny, firm nuts
in our T-shirts. Tomorrow we’d thread needles, carefully
work their points through outer skins,
through soft creamy pulp we couldn’t see,
pushing needles out the other side, stringing
each nut together. Chestnut by chestnut
our necklaces would form.

The news came the next evening, strung out
on the phone, first to my mother and then to me.
Barbara has died of an appendicitis.
I screamed so loud mother finally slapped me.

Mother and I waited at the door after ringing the bell.
She had no cause to tell me to be quiet now.
I stood silently at the edge of your satin-sinewy casket
shell.  In your first communion dress, Barbara,
you were so beautiful, but very still.

No trace of the fiery night you’d spent roasting
of burst appendix.  Your black hair shone—
someone must have washed it and brushed
a touch of pink on your china-white skin.
Your black eyelashes on your cheeks reminded me
of our dolls when we tipped them back to sleep.
Your smile like theirs now, too.

Remember how we used to take lit candles, drip
hot wax over our hands to make fine, thin gloves?
Your hand, so white,
is that what someone did to make them
like that now? They held
our rose bouquet ticketed for the earth.
The tag read;   Good-bye from Penny, Sandy, Anne.

Today I thought I’d write to tell you, my mother died,
and packing up in her attic I found the loose chestnuts,
dull brown, no longer shiny, yet firm in my hand.
My sons might have found a use for them,
if they’d been unearthed when they were young.  I’m not sure
I’ve ever told you about my sons.… have I, Barbara?

Over a Threshold of Roots, Sandra Larson, Pudding House Chapbook Series