Remember kettles sweating in kitchens of unholy steam? And listening for the lids to pop on all those Ball jars ladled full of tomatoes, pickles, peppers or jelly? If I could award this poem by Nancy Pulley a blue ribbon at some state fair of poetry, I would. It gets at the mystery of the canning pot, after all, where clusters of grapes, assisted by pectin, sugar and heat, get transmuted into wine-colored gel. At heart, this is a love poem for Pulley’s mother who presides over the sacrament, her palms stained “like no crayon, like no paint.” A “widow waiting for the next veteran’s check,” she nonetheless treats her daughters to a purple bounty. And poetry has brought her back.
When she picked the clusters of grapes
they dropped into the bottom
of the splint basket with a satisfying
plunk. She put them in the huge
enamel pan and while they cooked,
the house smelled of wildness, of the whole
outdoors brought in, of sweet skins
and juicy pulp, of plenty. The house
filled with grape scent from the
toy box in the front bedroom to the
cold, dark waiting pantry. She
felt full with the scent, no longer
a widow waiting for the next veteran’s
check. The girls danced in and out
of the kitchen while she hung the white bag
over the faucet, ladled hot grapes
until the bag was bulging, until the bag
dripped bright purple into a waiting pan.
That color, like no crayon, like no paint,
stained the bag, her palms. Her daughters
loved to watch as she squeezed the cooling cloth
until the veins stood out on the back of her hands
as if she had somehow taken the arbor,
the grapes, into her very blood.
Nancy Pulley lives and writes in Ogilville, Indiana. Her poems have appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, Indiannual, Flying Island, Arts Indiana Literary Supplement, Passages North, Plainsong, and Sycamore Review. She’s the author of the chapbook, Tremolo of Light, published by the Writers’ Center of Indianapolis.