— Christine Richardson
“tis in my memory locked…”
— William Shakespeare
Mission – seven – eight nine hundred.
I’m calling my grandmother.
I want a sour pickle from the barrel
at the corner store on Shotwell
behind her fourth floor walk-up.
I want Mother to drive me
in the ’49 Pontiac. I will call dibs
on a window and race my sisters
to the car. When we pass the bay
and the bridge in the distance,
I’ll know it won’t be long
before I’ll be pushing the little
button by her name. She’ll buzz
me up and be waiting in her floral
house dress and apron covering
her ample breasts, soft as a bed pillow
when she hugs me close. She’ll be
warm and only smell faintly of pee.
We’ll head to the tiny kitchen.
On the table by the window
overlooking South Van Ness,
a plate of cookies fresh from the oven.
My sisters and I will beg Mother
to let us eat them on the fire escape.
We long to climb to the roof.
No, she’ll tell us. It’s too dangerous.
Later, she will say its time to leave –
though I will stay. My sisters will whine
it’s not fair and I’ll hear my youngest
cry all the way down the stairs.
Back in the kitchen Grandmother
will open the icebox, take out a jar.
She will unscrew the cap and hand
me a thick spear of the pickle
she has sliced into fourths.
Oh, that first briny snap.
My face will pucker tightly.
She will laugh that throaty laugh
so deep it lifts her belly.
At dinner I’ll eat as many raviolis
as I desire. She’ll ask me about
school. I’ll tell her how all the girls
want me on their Red Rover team
and that Sister Mary Frances picked
me to be the Virgin Mary in the May
procession. Oh, pigeon, she’ll say
how lovely, and give me a silver
dollar from her red coin purse.
At nine o’clock, I’ll help her put down
the Murphy bed. We’ll snuggle in.
She won’t remind me to say my prayers.
When her soft snores have found
a rhythm, I’ll slip out to the kitchen.
Quietly I’ll get out the pickle jar
and open the back door. I will
sit on a step of the fire escape.
Here is where I will sew
everything together like a coat:
the piquant crunch, the salty juice,
the room inside where someone loves me
best of all, the simple night softening
the rough buildings below, and above
the first star I see where I will wish
this all were true.