No Sharp Edges
By Candice Kelsey
January 15, 2023
January 15, 2023
At eight years old I stood on my grandmother’s front porch.
The blur of Christmas lights down Prospect Avenue defined
the Pennsylvania dusk, Scranton’s anthrocite siren seduction.
My father told stories of immigrant turf wars and coal miner
tragedies which he softened with the names of neighbors and
the Balish Beer Garden. At twenty-eight, I napped in the chaise,
feet summer-warm against the Spanish tile—our first apartment,
Venice--that’s amore came from the Cheese & Olive nearby
to soften the palm tree’s face. It peered at me through the French
doors, rows of alligator teeth some grim omen. Two years later
in Southeastern Tennessee, my mother-in-law’s rocker creaked
beside her fireplace while snow fell like holy water from a hyssop
branch softening the world. I held my newborn girl, fleshy bundle
of life, and filled her lily’s sepal mouth with milk from my breast.
I remember thinking tonight there are no sharp edges anywhere.
Thursday she’ll turn twenty. She doesn’t want us to come visit.
At fifty-two I buried my father. No room for me in the reserved
front row of St. Patrick Church, I sat like a remainder in pitch pine.
The only softness a padded kneeler, emerald green. My brother’s
email--some logistics and funeral reading attached—prepared
me for the sequence of the Mass. Such a silken word, Mass. An
s is known by linguists as the voiceless aveolar sibilant. It’s made
by tension, air passing through clenched teeth like I passed by
my father’s coffin to read a passage from Romans. Three pews
of judgment disguised as family sharpened their eyes and waited
for the errant daughter to do something noteworthy. The cold
microphone met my hands as I began If God is for us, who can
be against us. How strange the sound and rhythm of public grief,
like a heart softening toward a pulpit, a priest, the Paschal candle.
An embroidered cloth melted over the wooden behemoth holding
the remains of my father. Dementia had slowly erased the edges
of his mind. He could never get out of bed on weekend mornings.
My mother’s favorite trick was to prick the bottoms of his feet
with her tiny nail scissors, letting the cold metal do her bidding
until he leaped from the sheets. The morning after his funeral
I sat by the grave alone. This world could do with less scissors.
Candice Kelsey [she/her] is a poet, educator, and activist in Georgia. She serves as a creative writing mentor with PEN America's Prison Writing Program; her work appears in Grub Street, Poet Lore, Laurel Review, and Worcester Review among other journals. Recently, Candice was a finalist in Iowa Review's Poetry Contest and nominated for a Best Microfiction 2023. She is the author of Still I am Pushing (FLP '20), A Poet (ABP '22), and a forthcoming collection with Pine Row Press. Find her @CandiceKelsey1 and www.candicemkelseypoet.com.