Decades’ Serenade

Imagine my grandmother dancing…

Alice Chambers, daughter of a mother tough and so severe,
my grandmother, my mother’s mother,
born 1917—her 25 would be 1942; also imagine
“A.J. Sylvester,” the name my mom only vaguely recounts to me.

Imagine “Moonlight Serenade” straining through a vacuum tube radio…

Somehow I think of him as Sylvester,
maybe Mr. Sylvester; I’ve never seen him.
I’ve seen his handwriting.
He died in Pearl Harbor; the navy named a ship after him.

Imagine the swell and sway of the clarinets as he held her…

After she married—Garnel Poppleton, a nice boy from church—
Sylvester kept writing, but that mother so severe
hid every letter until after he was dead
and it was too late, and that broke Alice apart.


Imagine the white on a mountain, framed by a kitchen window…

I remember her from her garden’s raspberries
frozen, fresh, and crisp; I remember the bite
of sweet and ice (she’d often pour milk over);
Alice Poppleton, my co-conspirator to decadence.

Imagine my grandmother folding laundry alone in the kitchen, in front of the fridge with only a radio playing…

I remember her from her letters;
she’d always tuck a dollar bill stiff from the bank,
and I didn’t mind when mom made me write back
because that meant yet another letter would come.

Imagine my grandmother’s face, deadpan, calling out for me as
Brian David Thedell Luke Skywalker throughout my fifth Summer…

I remember her—in the house down from the mountain
with her own private garden of berries
as she smoulders through life with that
nice boy from church, the radio, and
the pile of letters in the back of the guest closet.


Imagine hands, soft with Rose Milk lotion and a lifetime of work,
finally at rest on a quilt…

I can’t help but feel a kinship with Sylvester,
and I wonder what I’d call myself today
if a certain Japanese pilot had failed his mission,
had left someone alive to write back to.

Imagine “Moonlight Serenade” remastered on CD, ringing through
the nursing home bedroom…

By 2001 I was 25; I called her sometimes, in spite
of all the awkward, confused pauses, the mumbling of aging.
Then I learned that the nurses read my emails aloud
for her; it hurt me less to write than to talk.

Imagine my grandmother, dancing across all those decades…

I didn’t visit my grandmother’s death bed;
I’d grown unforgiving at her and her daughter so severe.
Now as I sit with my regret, I wonder if hers tasted as frozen and crisp
that day she changed from Alice Chambers to Alice Poppleton.