a legacy of dish washing
my grandma can’t take the train anymore.
she doesn’t say it, but we all know. she walks like winter
pressing down on a tree, the creaking loud enough to make you
think that maybe someone down the street is crying
out for help, but it is too soft
to know for sure; you don’t want to call 911
if all there is is a branch asking for attention. maybe
it’s just the wind rattling the panes, the air
rusting out brand new knees and hips and arms,
drying out freshly pruned eyes. she cannot take the stairs
to my apartment and there is no elevator, so she cannot see
the snake monument out of sea glass i have placed
next to a framed photo of her and grandpa in front
of an artificially imposed sunset
on the green screen deck of a carnival cruise. she gave me that snake
for my birthday, said, it’s beautiful, but i’ll never understand
why you like those slithering things.
if you try to help her up any stairs,
the ones life doesn’t allow her to avoid, she slaps your hands from her
like flies. i taught you how to walk. everything ‘bout walking
you learned from me. your help is asking a baby to breastfeed his mother.
i am harsh with my grandmother.
maybe too harsh. she comes
to the oven while i’m making pork and i command her to sit,
stay on the couch, enjoy her second cosmo.
and after dinner she comes to the sink to wash dishes and i push her
until she folds back into a chair as a losing poker hand. i scold her the way
one scolds a dog. she is far too stubborn to be a dog suitable for a house pet.
i got some of my stubbornness from her.
she says, you made the pork, it’s only fair i clean. but i still push.
i push my grandmother who had my mother after a shotgun wedding in ’59.
i push my grandmother, the one who didn’t care if i had grown
in her daughter’s womb or not.
i push my grandmother, who, upon learning that my father’s family abandoned us,
promised me that she’d be worth two grandmas to me.
i push her, say how many years have you been washing dishes?
sit. stay. let me practice.
By alyssa hanna
This poem was originally published by Cholla Needles.
alyssa hanna graduated from Purchase College in May 2016 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in History. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Reed Magazine, The Naugatuck River Review, Barren Magazine, Rust + Moth, BARNHOUSE, Pidgeonholes, and others. She was also nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize and was a finalist in the 2017 James Wright Poetry Competition. alyssa is an aquarium technician in Westchester and lives with her fish and special needs lizards. follow her @alyssawaking on twitter, instagram, ko-fi, and patreon.