Recollections: A Meandering Through Negative Capability


July 1981: Vol I, Number 1:

As summer 2014 fades into fall, let’s recall New Orleans’s Lee Meitzen Grue’s poem in this first Negative Capability issue:


Lee Meitzen Grue

Tall as Moses treading through the wilderness,

my grandmother walked out into water.

She leaned on a staff of white wood

and held my hand.

I walked in the beneficence of her straw hat,a halo of shadow around us;

The rough tongues of waves lapped the hem

of her skirt, brown cats licking cream,

the soft folds swirling around her legs,

sweet milk in the sunlight.

Reflecting, a morning sun baked my skin

to olive, an olive flowing water,

my thighs pulling against water like horses

against thick harnesses.

Tired to the bone by noon I ate

hunks of her bread and sausages,

then I dozed my stuffed afternoons away,

on striped ticking puffed as the breast

of the bird with goose down, dreaming of blue

crabs walking string out into water,

eons of summer passing on my grandmother’s face

soft as the silver indian on a nickel.

I awoke to the hoarse treadle of her sewing machine

galloping across the back porch,

her voice the voice of the canary,

thrilled by the gallop, singing his heart out

like a bird on a rose thorn;

I expected to find him,

feet in the air, dead from pleasure,

but he was in his cage bathing in a porcelain tub.

Oh, the glory of the outside spotted dog

mooning against the screen door, the red hens

singing under the dark eaves of walls

against the cistern, the smell of red geraniums,

the smell of all red forever in the sun.

The small me, skinny knees to chest, senses drunk,

seeing my grandmother’s foot on the iron treadle,

stitching in black the endless sun

to the white pine floor boards. 

Lee Grue’s poem offers a writing prompt:  Write about a Grandmother.

Notice Grue’s use of color – the white wood, the brown cats, the olive flowing water, the silver on the nickel, the red hens, and the black stitching.  Note too, the sounds – the “rough tongues of waves,”  “the hoarse treadle” of Grandmother’ sewing machine, “the voice of the canary thrilled by the gallop,” and “the red hens singing,”  The senses are alive and active in this poem; note, too, the smells – particularly  “the smell of all red forever in the sun.”

Such richness here in the folds of memory.