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Keepsakes (3 Poems) by Steve Gerson

Updated: May 31, 2023



Funk & Wagnalls, c. 1963


I've lived a life of words. They're in my head

like snow globe confetti in winter,

like cottonwood seeds fluttering in spring, like dandelion puffs blown into wishes.

I’ve gathered these words spinning in my head to make of them word sculptures

on paper, hoping the flat black letters could become dimensional with texture

as starshine, with sound that weaves stories as quilts, threading rhyme through rhythm.

Yes, Google search finds words in a cricket’s chirp. I prefer to linger in my F&W as if over a café au lait,

to savor each word’s flavor, to ingest a word’s aroma. I’ve mined for words finding derivative veins,

ferreting a word to mewl in dactyls like “whimpering,” thumbing through my dictionary for the trochee

“incandescent,” dogearing pages with words that flame. The words light my path like fireflies flickering in darkness.


These weren’t boots for riding a range.

They weren’t designed for harrying a herd.

My Dad bought his Nokona boots, post WWII,


for square dancin’ with my Mom. He called them

“Fancies.” The boots were slant-heeled,

square-toed, with a vamp of horizontal lines above


a propeller flourish, almost like the blades he flew

over the southern seas, north of Guadalcanal, seven

missions, 13 downed planes. The shaft was adorned with


Texas stars, woven into spring-green leaves, his life and

Mom’s now that the war was done. Above the embroidery

laced angel’s wings, white against the boot’s weathered brown.



Dancin’ Boots


These weren’t boots for riding a range.

They weren’t designed for harrying a herd.

My Dad bought his Nokona boots, post WWII,


for square dancin’ with my Mom. He called them

“Fancies.” The boots were slant-heeled,

square-toed, with a vamp of horizontal lines above


a propeller flourish, almost like the blades he flew

over the southern seas, north of Guadalcanal, seven

missions, 13 downed planes. The shaft was adorned with


Texas stars, woven into spring-green leaves, his life and

Mom’s now that the war was done. Above the embroidery

laced angel’s wings, white against the boot’s weathered brown.


I’d see him and Mom duded up for that night’s dance, she in her flouncy skirt, ready to twirl, he in his bolo tie and cowboy shirt, and they’d say, “Drink your milk, son,


and read with Aunt Rose, then hit the hay, cuz’ tomorrow we’ve got work to do in the field.” And off they’d go, dancin’ to Bob Wills at the Broken Spoke,


to hear loud honky tonk music, loud enough to deafen the bombs

he’d dropped, loud enough to muffle the spit of his Hellcat’s

machine guns, loud enough to dance him away from war.


I’ve got those boots in my basement now, my Dad and Mom long gone. I tried them on once, hoping I could be a dancin’

man too, to wear his angel wings, but I don’t fit his Nocona boots.


Travelers


She’s wearing a yellow shawl and ragged clothes

the color of the land, a brown dirndl dress hanging


over workmen’s boots, too large for her Dresden features,

a green apron, and a winter storm blue blouse, all torn in grief.


At her side slumps a beggar’s bag tied neatly in a bow,

and she carries a wicker basket filled with sorrows.


He is bent, bowed by whatever weight accompanies

strife, angst that his crooked cane can barely uphold.


His beard is shaggy as moss, his hair unkempt, his eyes

downcast. In his hand he holds a cap as if wishing for


rainbows to quench his hopes. His back totes a heavy bag,

like hers, bearing their lives shared. They’re on their


way, traveling to the new world, immigrants from German

pogroms, where Storm Troopers pillaged, where Jews,


like my grandparents, would be imprisoned and defiled.

Escape was the salvation, so they packed what they could


carrying, trudged through mud and hate, found refuge in

friendship and tolerance, until they could secure passage


to freedom. I am here today because they braved travel,

though they were as fragile as porcelain figurines.


BEHIND THE ANTIQUES:


Backstory for F&W


In 1970, I started graduate school at the University of Houston, striving for an MA in English. I was hired as a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) and given my Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary, with my name embossed on its front cover. Since then, I have acquired a PhD, taught college for 50 years, written 13 college-level textbooks, and published three books of poetry. All of those words came from my gifted dictionary. What a treasured possession, filled with the wonder of words.


Backstory to Dad’s Dancin’ Boots


My dad owned the boots described in the poem and shown in my photo. I was born in 1948, and he had the boots as long as I could remember. As I write in the poem, he only wore the boots to square dances that he and my mom would frequent. A 1950s thing, I guess, but the boots are exquisite! Beautifully tooled, gorgeously adorned. And I can see my dad and mom dancin’ with love and joy.


Backstory to Travelers


The two Dresden figurines, each 5” high, were handed down to me by my mom. I don’t know where she got them. I saw them in our home when I was a child, and now they’re in my home. I always imagined the figurines to be symbolic of my mom’s parents, my grandparents, whom I never knew. As the poem describes, they immigrated from Europe to Galveston, TX, coming with nothing but what they could bear, yet, despite no English, no funds, no education, and no family, they made a life—one which allowed mine.


ABOUT:


Steve Gerson writes poetry and flash about life's dissonance. He has published in CafeLit, Panoplyzine, Crack the Spine, Vermilion, In Parentheses, and more, plus his chapbooks Once Planed Straight; Viral; and The 13th Floor: Step into Anxiety from Spartan Press.


EDITOR'S SONG PAIRING:


Cowboys and Angels - WorldWarVice/Chantelle





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