Taste, Breathe, See ©2016 by Joy Bickham

This poem won 3rd place in Poetry, in the 2016 Mesa Community College Creative Writing Competition.


Taste, Breathe, See


I need to tell Laura to buy a ham.

We shouldn’t have frozen chicken burritos from 7-Eleven on Easter

when Grandma would have roasted an entire ham.

She would boil potatoes and eggs

for her yellow potato salad.


She would place sour pickles and black olives

in the depression glass veggie tray on her tightly crocheted table cloth.

It must have taken her three trips to the car,

to carry in the expected caffeine-free Pepsi, cherry cola and root beer

for the avocado green fridge.


Somehow, between cleaning the puffy blue toilet seat,

and arranging the tiny soaps shaped like seashells,

she would’ve made the time to stock the cookie jar.

It never failed that we would reach into the 70s ceramic tree stump

and pull out soft puffy cookies.


While Grandma was ruling from the kitchen,

Grandpa would open the leaf on the extra table

and pull the chairs from the storage closet.

When our sweet cousin Gabe would stumble through the carport door in his one big shoe,

he would get the first seat.


Gabe would giggle his shy hello to my mother,

Grandma would wave us out of the kitchen so she could check on the pineapple pig,

and my Grandpa would sit down next to us on the davenport.

He would embrace us with his thin wrinkly arm

sporting a faded army tattoo.


Grandpa would look at us sincerely though his thick glasses

and with his notorious coffee breath say,

“You know you’re something special, right?”

After feasting, the adults would converse with him

and pop the nob on his bulky TV.


Us kids would pull out vintage toys from the bottom of the linen closet

and watch Goofy slip on ice as we turned the plastic crank.

We would pretend the blue circle magnets were blueberries,

shape them in a triangle on a plate, and

play waitress to our aunts and uncles.


If we were allowed, we would explore the immaculate guest bedroom.

I loved to run my hand over the velvety quilted pillow of jewel color swatches.

It was also our nap room, but I can’t remember sleeping.

I would study the patterns on the doilies that lay under the lamps on the side tables,

and stare at the Bible on the dresser.


When Grandpa’s eyesight went, the spare room housed a clunky machine in the corner

to help him read the newspaper.

That’s when they got the big screen TV

so they could still enjoy the Suns games.

“Orange and purple forever.”


I’m glad they both got to meet Christopher,

even though they couldn’t make it to our wedding.

We visited my Grandparents once or twice while we were dating.

Grandpa showed Chris his guitar, and they took us for Sun City Mexican food.

Then Grandpa got sick.


The whole family visited him in the care center.

We took a group picture with him in his bed, barely responsive.

Grandma was unable to give us her full smile –

the kind with her eyes pinched together under skin parentheses.

We celebrated their last anniversary.

We grasped each others’ shoulders

bawling right in front of them that day,

expressing our deep grief and sorrow

more than at his funeral weeks later.

Grandma was next.


Not long after Grandpa left us,

She was moved into a shared living home, then the hospital.

I hated feeling them slip away so fast.

I needed their Presence across the valley,

their prayers from church.

I needed the tokens of faith they gave

like the silver Jesus ring they sent me while I was in Cambodia.

In a cracked and dusty plastic bin in the garage,

I still have the painted purple wood heart bookmark with pink yarn

that lists the fruits of the Spirit.


It’s important for me to remember the mini planetarium,

plastic and humid with tiny growing plants, in the corner of their trailer.

I don’t want to forget their glued together puzzle pictures over the beds,

or the braid of hair from my mother’s mother’s mother, soft and sacred,

kept in a music box on their tall dark dresser.


All I have left is Grandma’s smell on grey costume pearls,

and Grandpa’s on the guitar and amplifier in my closet.

The only way left to taste them, breathe them, see them,

is if we celebrate Christmas and Easter

like they did.