My grandmother’s bile leaves her body in slow drips. Brown fluid spirals through plastic tubes, a reverse birth. Mesmerized I sit and watch, and listen to the labored breaths. Now, when I float on my back in the ocean, I listen to my own, and stroke the sea beside me.
In the gilded age of conspicuous consumption, on the Gold Coast of Long Island,
Cornelius Vanderbilt was the founder of the feast. Today, his great-grandson’s modest 20-acre estate contains the world’s largest taxidermist fish (an impressive 32-foot whale-shark, like in the Natural History Museum, only real)
Please do not touch the moon, reads the sign inside the planetarium nearby, on a Sunday, on the morning of. We get the phone call when we come out, the wind whipping us, gazing at a rainy view of the estate, black holes still burning in our minds, our eyes still adjusting to the foggy light.
Retronym: a word that is coined after its time. Silent film for example. Grief. For another.
210 miles: distance from Poughkeepsie to Boston. (traveled every weekend for three months by my grandfather)
Salisbury beach: a restaurant where it’s New Year’s everyday. (where my grandparents met)
People could use their naked eyes to see it.
I’ll admit there is a language urge, the professor says, the field of Spanish bluebells say. Like reading from the Bible on Easter, like a Joni Mitchell song, like William K. Vanderbilt II’s empty swimming pool. Like her last words to me. “Just one prayer for your old Nana.”
But there are so many prayers, a clumsy sign-of-the-cross before take-off and nightly rosaries on beads with green shamrocks. Prayers to statistics, bargains with data. Barbara Kingsolver on her bookshelf. The pink petunias outside of McDonald’s. (a plant named carefree wonder)
My grandmother loved to figure skate, I find out the morning that she dies, looking at her mouth, crudely crooked, left open, hungry for another breath. The whale shark is a filter feeder; it opens its mouth five feet wide to the world.
The soul is the principle of life in the body, the priest tells us. The word for moth in Greek also means soul. My mother finds an emperor moth on her car the size of her palm, sits with it, on the floor of our garage, until it flies away. Sometimes she still looks for it.
These are the longest days of the year, I think, as we race towards the summer solstice, vinyasas in Times Square. These are my silent benedictions, my Hail Mary’s, tumbling down the escalator as I type on my phone.
If I met a woman like this, I would be sure to miss her, is what my student says, is what my grandfather would have said, had she not shown up on the beach that day, looking like the French word for dove, like a story of laughter, excellent coffee, an olive orchard
a mouth full of gold.
Megan Chiusaroli is an English language teacher and poet from New York. Her work has appeared in After Happy Hour Review, I want you to see this before I leave, and Aphros. She currently lives in Northern Italy with her husband, whom she met while hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Art: Dressed in peace, acrylic paint on 28×22 inch archival paper, 2018
Artist Statement: To me, this painting feels like warm solace, approachable femininity, retro and current all at once like the many layers of sweet Nana in this poem, full of gold.