Charles A. Swanson

Table Syrup, Cigarettes, and the Blind

Teach me thy way, O Lord,
that I may walk in thy truth . . .
            Psalm 86:11, RSV

When I decided to burn
candles one winter
(calling poems out of
bayberry, wintergreen,
one more magical
I wanted an ashtray
for struck matches.

The only one we thought of
was coke bottle green,
a second grade gift
my wife had made her parents,
the picture of her face
looking up through glass.
I couldn’t snub matches
against such hopeful eyes.

My father smokes a pipe
so I asked my parents.
My mother brought me
dried out terrapin shells,
some with outer armor
chipped, neat rectangles
missing.  I took to my study
one brown bit of earth child.

I became, as a result,
more aware of ashtrays,
relics of Americana,
tobacco stub palaces.
My mother-in-law’s home
honors my wife’s baby shoes,
coated now in bronze,
feet stilled before an ashtray.

But oddest bowl of all
the blue green ceramic
my aunt gave me.  I begged
it from her when I was small
because I liked King’s syrup
swirled with homemade butter.
The alphabet circles
the bowl’s flat edge.

How many biscuits
I sopped beneath the raised dots
of the Braille alphabet,
not knowing the bowl’s white cane
was not a candy cane,
not knowing the rim’s indentations
were for cigarettes,
not knowing the ways of my time.