Poem for the God of Small Mercies


A man I briefly dated later slit his girlfriend’s throat,
then pressed his thick fingers into her windpipe so
that she could call her mother and whisper goodbye.
It is not because of this I cannot sleep. It is not
because I now imagine air as love’s element, hissing
out in that last conversation like a balloon deflating.
Now, as usual, it is 3 a.m, and I am making
chokeberry jam. The ingredients: chokeberries,
pectin, sugar. The approximation of a prayer: any
violence made sweet. Tomorrow, I will go to the post
office and send two jars to my stepfather–one for
him to eat, another for him to add to the shelves of
the small bunker he built deep in the earth behind his
house. My stepfather is worried about North Korea,
about plague, about liberals generally. He is glad that
he has his own well and vegetable garden. Taking
stock of both makes him feel peaceful, though the
well water tastes of sulfur, and late blight often
threatens his tomatoes. Once, to drive away my
stepfather’s bad dreams, I added to his collection of
charms one of his dead brother’s burnt and
rainbowed spoons, so that he might find beauty in
ghosts. Once, the ghost of a bad dream made my
stepfather throw me down a flight of stairs, choke me
unconscious. Dogs barking woke us both. If I sleep
tonight, let me dream my stepfather’s apocalypse of
stewed tomatoes, wild grape jelly, bread and butter
pickles. Let the girl I might have been dwell too in
that ordinary heaven.

Audrey Gradzewicz