From "Long Ago In Oregon"

by Claudia Lewis

The Nelsons

I

In the early mornings
Mr. Nelson passed our house
on his walk,
in his neat dark suit
and coat, open and
flying a bit;
white hair,
sideburns,
stepping along
swinging umbrella for a cane.
When Mr. Nelson walked,
he walked,
enjoying the air
and the morning

Everyone knew
his big store
was the best in town
Always at Christmas
a Santa there
had gifts for children

When I was very small
we lived close by
Mrs. Nelson, plump and cozy
like a grandma,
would invite us in on days
when she made marshmallows.
Marshmallows! Not like
the puffs we bought in boxes
but trembling, glistening white,
arranged in fragile pieces
on a tray.

And her grown-up boys
and girls would play with us,
swing and toss us
in the yard
all around the snowball tree.

Far in the back of my mind
as time passed
I remembered once in a while–
almost not at all–
that the Nelsons were Catholics.
Mother had told us
any church in town
was all right for us–
except the Catholic.
“Why not the Catholic?”
“…Well, in that church
they worship images.”

What did this have to do
with the snowball tree
with cozy marshmallow grandma,
and the jaunty man–
the gentleman–
who walked in the morning?

I never even tried
to fit these pieces together.

II
One day I realized
I hadn’t seen him lately,
passing by.
“Mother, where is Mr. Nelson?”

“Oh, I meant to tell you.
We won’t see him anymore–
He was old, very old,
…He has died…”

(Meant to tell me?
I don’t think you did.)

Died–
I glimpse a great darkness
in spite of angels.

Dying?
I’ve heard snatches
of sad talk.
Now I know–

Death
is Mr. Nelson
striding along
alone
in the morning
toward something black and far
in the night.

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6 thoughts on “From "Long Ago In Oregon"

  1. Hey Laura!

    I finally posted on my “weekly” (ha-ha!) blog again.

    Remember Exie H? It's her — er — I mean, “It's she.”

    I want to post the words to “Before the Throne of God Above” on your blog!

  2. What, exactly, is this poem trying to convey? Is it questioning the faith of Catholics and their salvation? Or is it about the nature of death?

    I'm troubled by the second and third parts of this poem.

  3. CM, this is from a collection of poems (one of the first I ever read) that recalls the poet's childhood memories. I don't know what she was trying to get at, if she was making a grand point at all. It seems to me like one of those sense memory kind of things — maybe this was the first image she associated with the concept of death. I absolutely don't think she was trying to make a comment on Catholicism or the nature of salvation, but rather is relaying that sentence as part of cobbled-together memories about this couple.

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