OTHER GRANDMOTHER by IVA KAROLY-LISTER

Purple and sun-worn, supple and tired, you hold me on the couch in my parents’ living room. Where I cry into the space between your breasts and mine. Half-asleep, I pat your chest to shape a pillow. You belly laugh yellow into the overcast.

We drive across the midwest, eat steaks marked by signs that read “medium well” in towns doing about the same. Our tall-young-white and short-old-brown bodies in a red convertible are enough to make a family of four wonder if this really is Kansas anymore. You tell me we are so good-looking we make the entire country look twice. I want to believe they see the ghost between us.

We visit an Apache reservation and buy jewelry from an old woman. You introduce me as your granddaughter while she bends down to collect earrings from a blanket. She says routinely, oh, I got one like her. White father. You play along, nod your head like it’s a gosh darn shame. Yeah, she’s a quarter. I stand silently and smile like I just farted. She gives you a deal on a bracelet I wear for the rest of the summer. It now collects band aids at the bottom of a pool in Texas.

This becomes one of your favorite stories. When you tell it, my mom shakes her head and says, that’s hilarious. Mostly she just says things are funny because her body does not know how to laugh like yours. Joy echoes throughout you, an impossibly long drumroll. We watch you in tremolo, anticipating a finale. You wait for no punchlines, take what you can get, laugh to survive.

Back on the couch, you draw your fingers along my laugh lines to recall how the oil from salmon strips would stream down my cheeks. You laugh deeply. When I was a baby, your fingers traced familiar geometries onto my round cheeks and flat nose. (You thought I was cuter than my blue-eyed sister.) I think you are never so proud of me as when I eat ham hock adobo for breakfast. You laugh then too.

You tell me when you die, I am to think of you as Dora the Explorer. Your yellow backpack, your 30 year old tent kept in perfect condition, your matching pyjama set and coconut lotion, the cartoonish “pettuwy” you make to spit when you brush your teeth, the softness of your deep voice when you tell me how you sweetened your papa’s coffee with your finger. How after twelve years living without her, you are still in love with my other grandmother.

When we finally reach the mountains in Colorado, I am honored to find you asleep in the passenger seat. But I realize it isn’t that you trust me as a driver. You would die to explore a world in which she lives. I imagine the dimensions of time and space you travel to love us both.


Iva lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she enjoys spending time in public spaces like the library and the woods. Her poetry has been published in The Hunger.

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