April 2024, Poetry

Poetry by Ona Gritz

In Sycamore Park

A narrow path overseen by a few 
metal benches leads to the massive wonder  
this place is named for, limbs the size of trunks,  
and a plaque that dates it back to 1650. 
Today, beneath that great latticework 
of shade, my friends discuss  
what is known about the communal  
network of roots. Even a stump, 
otherwise dead, still shares  
what it has with the group. Meanwhile,  
my own stingy core keeps replaying  
a moment on the phone this morning,  
Jean sniping in a way that was so old  
and familiar it stung me to silence, 
same tone, same words, I swear,  
as in that first summer  
when I was eighteen and enthralled with her.  
Now I’m nearly sixty, she’s newly widowed 
and, as she fingers the mottled bark,  
I half think it must be illegal  
to be pissed at a friend, no, a sister 
with a grief that fresh. And yet,  
as Sue explains how fungi are the brains  
underground, my mind goes  
from fungus to fester. 
“How do botanists date trees,” Lisa asks,  
“when they can’t see the rings?”  
I shrug and glance at the gold band  
that links Jean to an absence,  
then hug my thickening middle  
and, with it, the girl I was  
who always assumed, whenever  
someone was so much as brusque,  
it was somehow her fault.  
“I can’t get over this thing,” I say, wanting 
to mean the sycamore. All it has felt 
in its almost four hundred years. 
All it must know and have forgiven.

Spring, 2020

For these last almost four months
when I’ve either been home
amid my Lysoled counters
and untouched mail,
or out with the dog, crossing streets
to dodge neighbors unless
they cross to dodge me first,
each of us waving to say what a smile
would if it weren’t covered up:
It’s not personal; good to see you;
stay well; let us all stay well.
Only our son has ventured out,
into the wide changed world,
bringing home food in packages
we regard like they might detonate,
walking on trails with his girlfriend
after her doctor father’s test came back clear,
and finally, just last week,
to an actual restaurant. Afterwards,
we’re hungry, my husband and I,
for assurances first: Was the staff masked,
the seating far enough apart? But then,
for a taste of how it felt
to eat a burger served by a stranger,
to do something so
remarkably ordinary again.
As a precaution,
we’ve widened the table
for this conversation,
adding those extra slats
like we used to for company,
as those he’s now company, him,
the only person I’d ever hosted
in the small, closed space
between my pelvis and heart.

Ona Gritz‘s new memoir, “Everywhere I Look,” is about sisterhood, longing, true crime, and family secrets. Helen Fremont calls it “profound and beautifully written,” and Rachel Simon says, “This is a book that will take hold of your emotions — and, if you’re willing, change you.” Ona’s earlier books include a middle grade novel, “August Or Forever,” and “Geode,” a finalist for the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. Ona teaches creative writing to teenagers with disabilities.

April 8, 2024

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