Nana, Paul Nelson

Judith Nelson, Loess Lamina, 1998, 26X30



Lon Chaney Jr.’s sweet dour face
lycan racked by the gibbous moon

Nana’s when she mourned
which was all the time around the house

hovering her black gas stove in the cellar
or the burn barrel in the back yard

Larry Talbot grew hair and claws
sabbath matinees at The Crown

Riven Maria Ouspenskya cast his fortune
Nana’s face wavered over me at night

She wrapped her legs in Ace bandages
And I watched the mummy Kharis

stored live some 3000 years
(Lon again)) also drag a leg

She croned herself at 42 when Johann died
His freighted lungs like sunken amphorae

a stonecutter breathing granite dust
three years of Estonian labor camp

then several more in the quarry
where Finns came to die in Quincy

years before I played the Princess Anankha
to her Kharis who was there to protect

whose rheumy eyes meant love entombed
Whose dry knotted hands hooked my arm

evenings after weeding her Victory plot
bent …all Europe rooting for tubers
I helped remove her black 30’s clumpy shoes
to soak her yellow nails and bunions in the green pan

peel corns like onions with the puuko boot knife
Uncle Gunnar palmed and told me Johann

slit Russians with and laughed
over vodka or tea with milk, passing nissu,

my nose alive to cardamom as if it were the smell
of nine sacred Tanna leaves smoldering Kharis’ ardor

Nana tended the fifty gallon fire out back
incinerating bones and eggshells and coffee grounds

old shoes and once a dead rabbit wrapped in funnies
the neighborhood acrid with Pearl Harbor

Half Lapp half Sibelius and second cousin to Nijinsky
Nana’s bun was tight as a Turk’s head knot

in a photo with her sisters in their teens 1913
her face hauled taut as Tonto’s by that hair

(Jay Silverheel’s) before Hanko shook with the shelling
of 87mm Russian cannon made by Krupp

She saw her mother sucked by concussion and smashed
with the pigeons against the bank across the square

tiny woman flapping out a rug in her doorway
who governed a tight coven of men of the Red

who also had families but hated the Russians
and prowled the trestles and docks with dynamite

Quincy Finns danced the polka and tango at the Veli
where my parents met then danced for 66 years.

Nana rocked endlessly dreaming toward Mondays
ghostly in the cellar with family sheets and a pile of coal

shirts scrubbed on her corrugated, galvanized board
her knotted fingers and knuckles pulling clothing

bled by the mangler like cheap labor
air sharp with naptha, pungent as her humped grief

that still wraps my any longing
Osiris leery of Isis and the fate of women

eight armed Kali keeping an eye on me
gnarled and upright in her sarcophagus

Nana who made my father shoot the pet white rabbit
nibbling lettuce in her Victory Garden

It screamed as it shuddered rigid as I did
who never knew rabbits could scream

In April of  ‘45 I was eleven playing in the field
Hearing her screech my name I ran

He’s dead He’s dead she wailed
her voice carrying like a hound’s on a moor

The one American she really loved was Eleanor
and now they shared something from a past world

Kharis found the reincarnated and stunning Anankha
secretary in the Department of Archeology

made her faint and grow a skunk lock in raven hair
carried her off to gently sink in the local swamp

and isn’t that the way with love
if you cannot die of it

I do not believe they are dead forever
Not with a story that damned and old
Nana took my father’s brass-head putter
and stood it in the soft metal flag holder

corroding on the front porch door jamb
For a mourning flag she hung a black

knee length business sock he hoped for me
by then hanging out like a bat in the beech tree

The moon cast wolves on the lawn
while I watched Mrs. Jackson’s bedroom window

She’d taken me to the Museum of Natural History
scenes forever mine  …sheltered in my diorama

Paul Nelson


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