for Anna Swiezy, my Bohemian grandmother

She shored in Baltimore,
ten years old, reckoning
streets bricked in gold.
Instead, linoleum cabbage roses
flowered and smelled of urine
in every room
she ever lived in.
Days, she labored
candy factories and glass works.
Nights, she learned shorthand,
scheming to barter for indoor plumbing,
oranges, silk stockings.

At twenty-five she moved Midwest
and married a game warden,
prompt in his brown uniform.
She wrote stories and answered
contest jingles. They always
voted Democrat. Early on
his heart deadlocked,
left her in the widow bed.
Palsy stung her feeble,
her mouth brooking saliva,
her legs slow. On the chiffarobe,
Christ was thorn-rimmed,
thin and dark, draped
in glass bead rosaries.
Mornings, she typed,
piling up manuscript like counterfeit,
the story of the new world,
toilets, factories, suffragettes.

:: Patricia Henley, Back Roads (1996)

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