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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.

Grape Jelly

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.

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