When my mother and sister go
to the fish market to pick up salmon for dinner,
my grandmother sits with me, husking corn
at the kitchen table of the cottage
we rent by the seaside each summer.
I ask her if she’s sad she never married,
if she’s ever looked across the ocean
and wondered if someone on the other side
is looking back toward her.
She drops husk after husk onto the table
and tells me of all the men who came into
her body under the pretense of love,
only to tear at her voice until she could barely
make a sound, and with every word they tried to take
a strand of her hair turned silver.
I stop husking because each time I reach the center,
I find the yellow corn surrounded
by tender white strings and I feel like I’m intruding.
My grandmother says she started wearing pearls
and old-fashioned cardigans
because she thought it would stop as she got older,
but she says it hasn’t stopped.
She tells me that in ancient Greece
they believed in soul mates,
but they were wrong about the gods,
and the only place anyone told her
she made them feel whole
was her third lover’s suicide note.
It turned out he didn’t kill himself
but drove cross-country in search of wine
that tasted better than her lips.
When my mother and sister return home,
they cook the salmon until the vibrant pink pales,
and I wonder why we give fish so much credit
for swimming upstream to mate
when they usually die in the process,
but when people looked at my grandmother
with her two daughters and bare fingers
they didn’t think of the sacrifices she made
to make sure they still felt the river
was a safe place to be.
Emily DeMaioNewton’s writing has appeared in Colonnades, the Literary & Art Journal of Elon University, and in past issues of Persephone’s Daughters. She won a national silver medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2014, and enjoys watching the sunrise.