Sandy Shreve
Paintings, Photo Art, Poetry

Blog - Wednesday Poems

(posted on 3 Jul 2024)


My friend Donna Shanley recently introduced me to the world of flash fiction. Hers have been widely published and are marvellous. You can find one example here:

Thinking about flash fiction reminded me that every now and then I’ve turned my pen toward prose poems, so I’ve decided to post one today:  Edith and Alba, from my book Belonging (Sono Nis Press).  This also reminds me that, even though Kate Braid and I discussed what prose poems might be in In Fine Form: A Contemporary Look at Form Poetry (Caitlin Press), I have never been entirely sure how to distinguish them from short prose.  So perhaps, after all, what I wrote was flash fiction?  And does it even matter?  Either way, the two women in the piece are real – Edith was my grandmother and Alba, my great aunt.  The visit depicted in this piece is obviously fiction, even a bit surreal – but many of the details are drawn from my memories of visiting them as a child.

Edith and Alba are shown with friends in the above photo, taken on July 10, 1937. Edith is third from the left and Alba is at the far right.



Edith and Alba

It is a late January afternoon and the sun, flicking a few last prisms across frozen snow, is yawning toward the horizon.  Two women sit in the living room, showered with a wide fan of light from the bay window, dropping in through blinds, slats angled like lowered eyelids.  Between them, the silver tea set glows on a glass topped coffee table.

Edith leans forward to pour.  Faint sounds of a distant ritual might be heard, a delicate clink as the pot is lifted from the tray, a quick splash and gurgle in each antique china cup, a prattle of spoons stirring, then placed upon their saucers.  Always on these occasions an aura of Earl Grey curls through the house on ghostly fingers, as if beckoning memories.  The women  –  careful to visit when the house they shared for nearly forty years is empty, as they do not come to haunt and have no wish to startle or frighten the young couple that lives here now – relax in ornate wing-backed chairs, sip their tea, and listen.

The walls let go of voices.  Alba hears the front doorbell chime.  A shy girl slides onto the piano stool, arranges her fingers over the keys, her saddle-shoed feet at the pedals.  The metronome ticks behind Beethoven's beautiful Fur Elise.  Edith's grandchildren hop from foot to foot in the front hallway, begging entry to the mothball closet under the staircase where wooden toys from another generation are stored way in the back, below plastic wrapped suits and sweaters.

Dusk casually descends around these two Victorian-born women, the one who married the other's brother, the other who remained a spinster.  They meet here when they can, taste the details of their lives.  Sometimes, like today, they arrive to laughter and song; other afternoons it might be an illness or even a death; as often as not it's just the ordinariness of any day, something as simple as a favourite breakfast — the rustle of the morning paper, the scrape of forks and knives against plates, the thick scent of sausages and eggs, toast or donuts or fresh baked bread. 

In shadow now, Edith reaches over, pats Alba's hand, the years of care between them so long ago grown soft with sagging skin.  Alba smiles, says nothing.  It never fails.  Between their visits, each conjures up these fleeting moments, imagines conversation.  But everything that they've saved up to say will take too many words to fit this tiny vessel of disappearing time they savour, sitting here, the darkened parlour brimming with their silence.