Isn’t it a shame, my grandmother said,
silver fork in her shivering fist,
how we have to go on eating?
We were sitting up to burnt chuck,
potatoes in their dirty jackets,
and hunks of Irish brown bread,
the two of us sitting up at the old wood table,
the one years ago my grandfather built
of planks pulled from an abandoned mine.
My grandmother stared at her plate.
She couldn’t have been
more than a hundred pounds then,
the palsy at work in her hands,
her hung face. I was fifteen and hungry.
I had shoveled for her that day
two tons of furnace coal.
It was nearly winter. The summer past,
my grandfather had gone ahead
and died. Even if it was only
soda bread and fried steaks, I see now
it was something. I shoveled
another forkful of buttered potato
into my mouth, bits of the stone
we call salt between my teeth.
Editor’s Feature in TQ1: Spikes & Rivers: The Work of Joe Wilkins by Elizabeth Eslami
Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his family in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.