The Couch with Velvety, Gray-Green Flowers

“I understand you’re always welcome
on Park Street,” Grandma T. says
and—when I look puzzled—“Phyllis
would enjoy seeing you anytime.”
Then I remember: Park Street’s where
Aunt Phyllis lived in Washington.
But that was thirty years ago
when Grandma T. was still alive.
Now I’m showing her a video
of Preston on my iPhone. Telling her
how he’s learning to read in two
languages. Can add double-digit
numbers in his head. Where are we?
I look around and we’re in Lansing
sitting on her couch, the one
with velvety, gray-green flowers
I liked to run my fingers over
when I was Preston’s age. They still
tickle. I’m back in the two-story
white apartment building on Dibble,
back on that short, dead-end road.
I’m embarrassed to be telling you
a dream, but this one’s a door
sliding open: Grandma T. sits here
beside me, thin and stooped
in her brown wig, her purple dress
(she never wore slacks), her heavy
black shoes. She’s so small. She blinks
behind her gold-framed glasses.
I want to keep breathing the warm air
of her apartment, walk over
to look at all the snapshots arranged
under the glass top of her desk
so I can remember them again—
the fading square 1970s prints
with rounded corners—but I don’t
get up. As if I’d scare her off. As if
I can just stay here on the couch. I lean
closer to hear her better and then
I’m awake. She’s gone. I’m left with
Park Street? The narrow blue
row house with a postage-stamp yard
Phyllis mowed with a Weed Wacker.
Park Street—but it could be any street.
Any name. It’s the echo of her voice—
I could hear her again—I’m trying
to hold: two words, two syllables
like the two halves of her locket
snapping shut. I never saw her open it.
I never knew what she kept inside.

Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn’s most recent book is The Grace of Distance, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His previous book, Dear Almost, won the Lascaux Prize. He has new poems in Copper Nickel, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review and The Best American Poetry 2020. He lives in New Jersey.
Matthew Thorburn

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Author: Matthew Thorburn

Matthew Thorburn’s most recent book is The Grace of Distance, a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His previous book, Dear Almost, won the Lascaux Prize. He has new poems in Copper Nickel, Hotel Amerika, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review and The Best American Poetry 2020. He lives in New Jersey.