It became my job, that summer,
to shelve the mason jars,
those simple perfect containers that
my grandfather spent his time
filling. Ripened tomatoes,
grown lovingly from seeds,
pruned religiously, staked precisely
so that the sun hit the fruit just so.
Tomatoes plucked at just the right moment.
Not so early to be mealy.
Not so late to be mushy.
Picked at the exact moment of plumpness
As if the Virgin herself
Entered the garden and kissed the fruit to deem it ripe.
My grandmother only trusted me
because my legs were steady –
and could take the bounce of the wooden cellar steps.
My grandfather didn’t want the argument,
and so I became the family miner,
connecting the world of the kitchen
with the musky cellar
where the dim light
kept the mouse droppings
out of sight.
Each time my grandfather handed me a cache of fresh preserves
he made me write out the label,
his own handwriting having grown too shaky.
“You must record each ingredient,” he insisted.
“This one has a pinch of red pepper.”
He winked, knowing that my grandmother was allergic.
I put that jar on a separate shelf,
one my grandmother wouldn’t pull from
later that winter
when she descended the soft wooden steps alone,
searching for a memory that would bring her back
to the summer when the sun made things perfect
and husbands were mischievous
and both tomatoes and grandfathers were alive.
- December 2020