Black Walnuts
"Worlds are altered rather than destroyed." --Democritus
By Mary Harrison

Autumn, as goldenrod loses its punch, I stir up
an apple cake, watch, from my kitchen window,
a faded robin bobbing through subtle fire
of marigolds and daylilies angling the redwood fence.
Oak and elm leaves somersault to the ground
like clown dancers at the Walnut Street festival.

To the batter, I add black walnuts from Albertson's.
I smile, remembering autumns when Dad,
who ordinarily distanced himself from the family,
cultivating his vegetable garden, or hiding behind
the Springfield Leader and Press, in front of the radio,
marshaled us into the Dodge, and
drove ten miles to woodlands north of Springfield
to gather black walnuts,
ripened, fallen from the trees.

Mild, crisp afternoons, our weatherbuster
shoes trampled yellow-turned-gold-by-the-sun
and crimson leaves,
as we filled
gunnysacks with the bumpy green balls.

At home, Dad pounded the thick, fleshy hulls
until they loosened, then peeled,
stacked them in layers on a table in the basement,
let them dry. Later stored in wire baskets,
soaked, drained, soaked again,
covered them in moistened cloth from Mom's ragbag,
until he was ready to crack the shells.

Nights, while listening to the radio--Evening News,
Fibber McGee and Molly, St. Louis Cardinals ballgames,
Dad, with a pick, carefully lifted the meats
from the walnut shells. Next day,
he baked the meats in a low oven. Then, packed
in pint mason jars, they were stored in the freezer
until a cake, cookie, or candy recipe called.

When he built the house on Linwood Drive, Dad planted
a walnut seedling on the northeast corner of the lot
near a white pine and red oak.
By the time the tree produced nuts, I had married and
moved away.

Every year, long after the walnut tree had released
its leaves, a cold moon had skimmed
the sky, and winter robins, looking for food,
had left their marks in the snow,
in our Christmas box, nestled among the snowman
and Santa Claus wrappings, was Dad's
gift to me--
a plastic bag tied with red ribbon, filled with rich
walnut meats. And, though demonstrations of
love embarrassed Dad,
I liked to think, as I stirred a batter of brownies
or apple cake,
each morsel was a kiss, a hug.


Mary Harrison has a Master of Science degree from University of Connecticut. Her poetry and prose have been published in several journals including "Kansas Quarterly," "Midwest Poetry Review," "Mediphors" and "Poetry Motel." Her book, "Unforeseen," was published by KotaPress, March, 2001. She is a retired psychiatric clinical nurse specialist and has four sons.


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