“She didn’t even hold my hand at the practice that night,” he says.
He cranks his neck around from his newspaper at the kitchen table to look into the dining room.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry you, James,” she says, walking to the table with a fresh deck of cards.
He looks at her with a look that I’ve always taken to be a knowing of secret holding. The kind of look that says, I know you love me and that’s why we are married, and have been married for fifty something years, and we don’t even need to say it anymore because some things are alright left unsaid.
I might have only been seven or eight at the time but I understood the look.
“She didn’t even kiss me when I let her out at the house after the wedding rehearsal. Did I ever tell you about fighting for hours and hours with her dad, to convince him to let me marry her? He’s just as strong headed as her, and a mean cuss”.
“My dad was a smart man,” she says.
“She’s a pony without a saddle. That’s what her father said about her,”.
And the look she shoots him, I swear is love, is the kind of look I’ve never seen anyone shoot anyone with. Not my mother nor my father, nor my cousins nor their parents nor the people acting on television or in the movies. And, I’ve never been in love before. So maybe I’m not the most expert on what the tell tale signs are. What I do know is that everyone is getting divorced. That’s not just what television says, but I’ve seen my friend’s parents and my cousin’s parents and strangers talk about it all the time.
My grandmother shuffles the deck of cards.
I cut it two thirds down. I watch her perform magic on the cards. She bridges with the sleight of hand of windmills. The cards fold into each other and then from each other and then halt.
“Now I’ll keep score”, she says, “You remember gin-rummy? Right Keegan?”
“Don’t trust her with numbers”, Grandpa says.
My parents are far away in California. This place reeks of summer.
The thunder rolls, the rain comes and goes and in the morning when my grandfather thumbs his rosary, mornings where I can stand to get up early enough, we watch cardinals dart through the porch. I watch the flowers open and jockey for position to catch rain. I watch the flowers reach toward where they think the sun will appear later on in the day as if from muscle memory. I watch the fire station a block or so down the street which stays silent. I watch the synagogue across the street which is silent, and foreign and beautiful, a single light in the front. I think of the time my cousin threw rocks at the synagogue from the porch and never explained why. I think of the same night where two of my cousins huddled behind the safety of the bricks of our porch and waited for cars to make their slow approach from the High St. bridge: WoooooooOOOOOOOooooooooooooooOOOOWoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo they moaned as loud as they could mimicking firetruck or police car at the oncoming vehicle. “Dad taught us how to do that,” they said. And sometimes the vehicle would slow down or stop before realizing that there was no one around. That it must have been teen pranksters or ghosts. And those mornings where I’d pull myself out of bed at five and sit with my grandpa on the porch, him in the recliner and me on the porch swing glider with blankets wrapping us, I would think about us being ghosts.
I would think about how everything I knew came from here, and from the looks my grandma and grandpa shoot each other with. How everything I knew came from the cardinals staining the air around us red. I knew they stain the air that could not have been sky, because humans don’t go into the sky except on airplanes, but still the same air that we share with the cardinals that they fly through.
I never knew what that word was, or if there was a word for it, the way that I’d get confused that the ocean was both a body of water with a surface where things can be seen and also a depth so large that we humans could never fathom seeing everything in it or its reach.
How come there wasn’t another word for that?
How come there wasn’t a word for the different kinds of ocean and different kinds of sky; the one all around us that we walk through and the one above us, the one we reach for.
I’d think about all of this in the early black summer mornings on the porch next to my grandfather as he prayed the rosary and I watched fingers of lightning peal back black sky from other blue sky from red.
“Don’t trust her with numbers,” Grandpa says.
I look up from the card game.
“Did I ever tell you about the time in Buckhannon where she was working the concession stands at the high school football game, and was giving too much change and not enough change, but your grandmother was so beautiful she could get away with it,” Grandpa says.
She looks at him again with the same look, that for every year of my life I mistook for love.
And that night when I went to sleep, I was watching lightning in the sky above the synagogue across the street. I was watching lighting in the sky above the hills across the bridge into Westover, lightning in the sky for miles and miles above the wild and listened to the trains whistle through the wild, carrying their coal to Pittsburgh. And I was thinking about how beautiful I’ll have to become one day to be like my grandmother, who is the keeper of her own rules.
Keegan Lester is a poet splitting time between New York City and Morgantown, West Virginia. His work recently appears in Powder Keg, Boaat, The Atlas Review, The Journal, Tinderbox, Reality Beach and Sixth Finch among others and has been been featured on NPR and Coldfront. His manuscript “We Both Go Together If One Falls Down” was a finalist for the 2016 Georgia Poetry Prize. He is the co-founder and poetry editor for the journal Souvenir Lit. If you’d like, you can follow him on twitter @keeganmlester or find out more about him at www.keeganlester.com