Nancy Scott is the managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in New Jersey. She also is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent book, On Location (March Street Press, 2011) is a collection of ekphrastic poems based on artwork, including her own collages. Her poems have appeared in many journals including: Poet Lore, Witness, The Ledge, Slant, Mudfish, Verse Wisconsin, Raven Chronicles, and The Copperfield Review. Find her website at www.nancyscott.net
The Outside Rear Steps
The iceman often came down the rear steps,
empty tongs slung over his shoulder,
while Mother, heavy with groceries,
and I pressed on the railing to let him pass.
Two flights to the top. Afraid if I got dizzy
or my shoes misbehaved, I could easily slip
between boards and crash, a wingless
sparrow, onto the garbage cans in the alley.
When I made it to the landing, nothing
to see but weeds and junked cars.
My two great-grandmas, black dress,
black shoes, and gray buns neatly pinned,
hugged us in Yiddish that floated
beyond me. The kitchen smelled of cabbage
and unopened windows. While Mother
restocked shelves, I escaped to the only
other room to explore. Two beds,
white spreads, and on the carved dresser,
a glass tray with powder puffs, a brush,
hairpins, a few coins. Faded photos. A letter.
Why did they live in this musty apartment
when we had a big house and a maid?
At the red oil-cloth table, I dunked hard
cookies in chilled milk, waited for Mother
to stop chatting, and fold next week’s list
into her purse. As each grandma kissed
my forehead, I felt on my arm, the hungry grip
of her hand, her thin bones wrapped in
speckled skin. For a moment we were bound
by the only familiar we would ever know.