Author: Louis Gallo
Location: Radford, Virginia
Louis Gallo, Radford University, has had work published in the American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, Berkeley Fiction Review, Texas Review, Missouri Review, Portland Review, The Ledge, The Journal, Baltimore Review, storySouth, Oregon Literary Review, Rattle, New Orleans Review, Louisiana Literature, Amazon Shorts
, and many others.
in three parts
I lift my older daughter onto the counter
knowing she wonít fall even if she stretches
to press the numbers on our microwave.
Then up with the little one, not yet two,
whose knees I secure with my stomach.
Time to make a sandwich--the usual fake turkey,
jalapeno mustard, horseradish and wheat bread.
My girls like to help. They smell and touch
each ingredient. I lay out the bread
on a paper towel and ask the baby, "Whatís this?"
Claire screams the word for her sister:
"Itís bread, Maddie, say bread!"
"Gwarf!" Maddie hoots, rolling her head.
I unscrew the mustard lid--
itís one she almost knows. "Mut-ta," she coos.
But she canít stand its smell, turns her nose.
Claire gives the horseradish a chance
because she says it cures her allergies.
I have to agree. One whiff and my sinuses
clear like an endless Nebraska highway.
Then the packaged turkey, "smoked" to boot.
"Too-ky!" Maddie proclaims, another triumph.
I pull out a roll of aluminum foil, tear off slivers
for both girls and wrap the sandwich
in a great crinkling swatch. I lift Maddie
by the waist and lower her to the floor.
She scampers off with the foil. Claire wants
a bigger piece. I will find metallic shreds
all over the house and scold my children
for making a mess.
Or suppose I say we make the sandwich
with stuff from the cupboardís lowest shelf
(except the cold turkey) and take turns sniffing,
since smell, like taste on the tongue,
eases so deftly into language.
May my girls smell and taste words
and step securely from the kitchen
into a scented, familiar thicket
of co-presences, mud under fingernails.
I move on to the second shelf
of tinctures, roots, herbs, sacks of spice.
"Smell this," I instruct: oil of rosemary, ginger root,
frankincense, sage, husks of nutmeg, juniper berries.
Then a third, from which on tiptoe I pull
despair--musty like a cave--, envy, ecstasy,
chaos, lust, grief, deceit and all the rest.
Maddie can pronounce words now;
Claire has tasted her first broken heart.
My hair has turned white as a star, thin as philosophy.
I slide the step-ladder into place
and rise to the forbidden fourth shelf
into which I have never peered.
Feebly, I wobble on the rungs.
"Whatís there?" the girls cry from a vast distance,
from the future. "Smell this!" I whisper,
taking my time, savoring time.
My thin, trembling fingers can barely grasp
what they caress in this darkness,
but I canít disappoint my daughters.
Out tumbles the world, Earth, wee Mercury,
Saturn, Jupiter, they avalanche forth--Iíve lost control--,
the Milky Way, galaxies, the entire universe
and other universes, some invisible, others blazing
with light, the primeval atom, space before time,
time before time, and finally Spirit,
jocund, majestic, immutable . . .
"Children," I cry, "smell Being, smell God!"
Claire sniffs; Maddie, more cautious, hesitates.
"God smells like your sandwich!"
Claire cries as she rushes into another era.
"Bread," Maddie waves, streaking after her sister.
Alone finally, with an empty cupboard,
I lack strength to descend from this height
though itís grace enough
to finish the meal still in my hands
and step like air into the air.