Eight Ounces of Canned Poem


One Saturday, my friend Rebecca Reynolds bundled herself in three coats and hiked up Roan Mountain with a jar in her hand. Standing on the mountaintop, she opened the jar, read a poem into it, then sealed it shut and carried it back down the mountain.

As part of a recent online auction to raise funds for The Rabbit Room’s North Wind Manor project, Rebecca offered a simple glass jar. “Eight Ounces of Canned Poem,” she titled it. “You pick the poem. The jar will be labeled with a tag identifying the poem, the date of the reading, and the specific environment you choose for the reading of the poem.”

While I had been dreaming about a cellar and Mason jars, Rebecca had been writing about them. She had crafted a work full of hope and promise, a tale of burial and longing for resurrection.

April Pickle

Rachel Lulich commented, “People said bottled water was a fad.” Jonathan Rogers asked if she had any more photos. Bill Smithfield wanted to know if there was an option in which the winner could choose what Rebecca drank before the reading. But Rebecca persisted, “It’s going to be the next big thing. First edition, collector’s edition right here, people.” And, “This is a 16-ounce jar, but it only holds eight ounces of poem. And some settling occurs during transport.”

When I placed my winning bid, I knew just the poem I wanted her to read, and I told my friend she could choose the setting. Several years ago, my stepfather battled an aggressive form of brain cancer. All the doctors agreed Mo was going to die, even with steroids, even with radiation and chemo, even with two surgeries. And he did.

Twenty months after his diagnosis, on the Wednesday before Easter, in a cemetery blooming with Central Texas wildflowers, my family mourned as our beloved one was laid into the ground. We took turns shoveling a bit of dirt onto his casket, an oak casket made by Trappist monks.

Mo was a quiet, Jesus-loving man—slow to speak, slow to become angry. My mother chose a large natural rock for his headstone. When she asked their children what the headstone’s inscription should say, my sister joked,  “Quiet.” Mama opted for a line from one of Mo’s favorite songs: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Back when Mo was in the throes of battle with the cancer monster, one night I dreamed I held a shovel. With the shovel I dug a cellar in my backyard. Then one by one inside the cellar, I set glass jars of fruits and vegetables onto a wooden shelf.

The morning after the dream, I took my phone from the nightstand, opened the Facebook app and encountered Rebecca’s poem. While I had been dreaming about a cellar and Mason jars, Rebecca had been writing about them. She had crafted a work full of hope and promise, a tale of burial and longing for resurrection. Here’s the poem I read that morning, the same poem Rebecca Reynolds read into a jar atop Roan Mountain on Saturday:

The sky was cool
as a sunfish belly,
by high heaven
flesh-flecked, flushed and gilded.

Fin-slit frolic,
through iced glory swelling,
made her leap,
split those thin waters.

Threaded by golden strands,
dawn stitched God’s firmament
to the red clay
of Ticker farm where Blythe
lined sea-blue
Mason jars on a time-bent
one-by-six under
yellow cellar light.

It was a room
dug deep, though not very,
a blank, earthen
womb for harvest and babes
kept through
summer storm; sweet, hidden plenties,
nestled against
odds from middle wars waged.

Longing like
hope cast by hook and line,
stretched from
burial to whimsy.

April Pickle lives in North Texas with five other human Pickles and two Pickle dogs.

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