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"For none alive today Can know the stories that we know Or say the things we say." -- W.B.Yeats
For Two Men, Old NowFor two men, old now, when they meet at all it's to shake hands at somebody's funeral; but when the mother of the younger died and he saw his friend, with wife, at the graveside, he locked him in a hard, sad embrace and briefly nudged his cheek against the other's face. The friend, also strong, held them an inch apart -- the unchanged instant instinct of a heart still after decades determined not to tell about old wrestling games it almost liked too well.© Carl Selph, 1999
Great-Grandmother: A ReminiscenceHer snuff-smell and her mole; her treasured mug Of cranberry glass engraved, St. Louis -- Blanche -- Nineteen-0-three; forbidding from her walls, Remoter kin who skidded my blithe step To furtive tiptoeing; and in a niche A stereopticon equipped with scratched Photos of crowds with black umbrellas, deer In color, dead beside a stream, the dark And stuffy White House rooms of Cleveland's time: These old, mysterious things furnished my mind In those days when Great-grandma and her house Lured me from fidgets while the relatives Made endless talk in an adjoining room. Grandma prepared for death well in advance. She had her stockings and a long gray dress Put by, in tissue paper, for the time. In an event quite bound to happen, one Should not be taken unawares. By her Complete instructions, she was dressed at home By friends and laid within a sensible And inexpensive box. They placed a damp Washcloth on Grandma's face, and there she lay. Her dying was my first full-scale occasion; After that I never did spend hours On Sundays peering at Cleveland's massive brown "Family Dining Room" or pumping at Grandma's tall, dusty organ, all stops out.© Carl Selph, 1955 First published in Prairie Schooner
Great-Grandpa Died on MondayGreat-grandpa died on Monday as he lay in his tall Victorian bed, having completed nearly a hundred plain, unselfconscious years. He was not a man of battles. Of the War all he remembered was boiling the smokehouse earth for salt and hefting his father's one-shot pistol. All his valor was expended in the Ouachita river-bottom. There he raised corn and cotton and shot fox squirrels for meat and pleasure. Kimbel fought in the Great War; Ola married a heavy blacksmith; the other children moved away, till Grandpa and Grandma lived alone. Grandpa repaired clocks and watches and whittled trinkets from white pine. And I remember the flop-eared mules and Grandpa's hands loose on the reins. I've heard my father say of a man, "He was a good man." Yet I wondered, is that enough, to be only good? Grandpa was a good man who never wondered if he was happy or fully aware. He was busy fishing and raising peanuts and singing on Sundays in the choir. He was a good man and didn't think of it. I heard of his death through a letter. I sat and thought, so Grandpa's dead, who carried me fishing in the wagon, rattling along behind Sam and Kate. My earnest manhood parted us, for he knew already what I must learn; thus I begin, at his going, to praise his plain, unpassionate time.© Carl Selph, 1957 First published in the Georgia Review
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