what i learned from my mother :: julia kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

piano, new york :: julia kasdorf

Anywhere, like Idaho, women like our aunts
would save quarters in cups or sell pies
to buy one like this. They’d put it in a parlor
for hymns and rub it with lemon oil each week,
but here an old piano comes with the apartment,
and no one will pay movers to hoist
the beast out the window on ropes.
We think we’ve no choice but to saw into its side
that shines like the side of a horse.
We save the real ivory keys in shopping bags
and yank out the rack of purple felt mallets.
Behind it all is a harp, tall as the whole piano
and sprayed with gold. When wing nuts are loosened,
the strings twang then hang slack. We stop
for a moment, then rasp through its frame
with hacksaws and drag the thing, piece by piece,
down three flights of stairs to the street
where people walking by recognize—
just from its insides—a piano.

green market, ny :: julia kasdorf

The first day of false spring, I hit the street,
buoyant, my coat open. I could keep walking
and leave that job without cleaning my desk.
At Union Square the country people slouch
by crates of last fall’s potatoes.
An Amish lady tends her table of pies.
I ask where her farm is. “Upstate,” she says,
“but we moved from P.A. where the land is better,
and the growing season’s longer by a month.”
I ask where in P.A. “Towns you wouldn’t know,
around Mifflinburg, around Belleville.”
And I tell her I was born there.
“Now who would your grandparents be?”
“Thomas and Vesta Peachey.”
“Well, I was a Peachey,” she says,
and she grins like she sees the whole farm
on my face. “What a place your folks had,
down Locust Grove. Do you know my father,
the Harness shop on the Front Mountain Road?”
I do. And then we can’t think what to say
that Valley so far from the traffic on Broadway.
I choose a pie while she eyes my short hair
then looks square on my face. She knows
I know better than to pay six dollars for this.
“Do you live in the city?” she asks, “do you like it?”
I say no. And that was no lie, Emma Peachey.
I don’t like New York, but sometimes these streets
hold me as hard as we’re held by rich earth.
I have not forgotten that Bible verse:
Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back
is not fit for the kingdom of God.

onion, fruit of grace :: julia kasdorf

Onion, fruit of grace,
you swell in the garden
hidden as the heart of God,
but you are not about religion.
Onion, frying into all those Os,
you are a perfect poet,
and you are not about that.
Onion, I love you,
you sleek, auburn beauty,
you break my heart though
I know you don’t mean
to make me cry.

Peeling your paper skin,
I cry. Chopping you,
I cry. Slicing off
your wiry roots,
I cry like a penitent
at communion, onion.
Tasting grace, layer by layer,
I eat your sweet heart
that burns like the Savior’s.
The sun crust you pull on
while you’re still underground,

I’ve peeled it.
Onion, I’m eating
God’s tears.