by Alana Ruprecht
I found my old piano in the basement
of my grandparents’ house
covered with jars of preserved fruit
and stacks of National Geographics.
I moved them aside and unlocked the lid.
My ivory keys. I opened the bench
where I kept sheet music, wanting
Chopin’s “Nocturne in B-flat minor”—
but it was filled with sand dollars
and seahorses, some broken in half.
Underneath: John W. Schaum PRE-A book;
I played “Speed Boat,” “Lightning Ranger.”
I thought of my piano teacher, her house
on Stanton covered with ivy, a broken-down
Buick in the driveway; on the porch, bowls
of cat food. Once, I arrived and she answered
the door in her nightgown, silver hair
to her waist, first time I’d seen her without
the bun. When I stopped the lessons,
my grandparents still brought her
zucchini, persimmons, plums, and rhubarb
from their garden. They grew pumpkins
but didn’t eat them. In St. Petersburg,
I lived with a babushka—an old woman
named Ludmila—who ate them roasted.
I told her I’d never eaten a tikva. She didn’t
believe me. This was near Park Pobedy,
on Ulitsa Basseinaya: Bathtub Street.
Mail arrived at the Grand Hotel Europe—
the letters had to go through Finland first—
and I carried them in my coat pocket
while I walked around the city, not wanting
to open them too soon. My good friend
lived on Vasilievsky Island. In front
of her apartment, a giant concrete turnip
looked like some kind of Soviet jungle gym,
by that point too dangerous to climb.
From her room on the fourteenth floor
we’d watch the sun set on the Gulf of Finland.
One day I cut a picture out of the paper.
The caption read, “Reunited—Benjamin
Feinstein, 101, and his sister Sara
Pyatigorsky, 87, weeping after ending
an 80-year separation in Canada
on Thursday.” In 1919, Feinstein fled
the Bolsheviks. The year before, my grandmother
was born in North Dakota. She lives
in Idaho now in a senior retirement community.
The only one remaining of her siblings,
she calls herself “The Last of the Mohicans.”
She tells me about her honeymoon to Winnipeg
in 1941: at the movie theater, everyone stood up
when Winston Churchill came on the newsreel.
She thinks she probably stood up too.
I think of the time that passes between lives.
When I was born, my father was there
but I didn’t meet him until I was 26.
I say goodbye to my grandmother for the night.
From the Perrine Bridge, a figure leaps off
into the canyon that Evel Knievel once tried to clear.
A base jumper. If I didn’t know any better,
I would think, what a spectacular tragedy,
what a colossal triumph.
Alana Ruprecht is a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA
Program at Lesley University, and her work has appeared in
The Westchester Review and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.
When she is not writing, which is most of the time, she makes
baskets, quilts, and paints. She lives in Oregon with her husband,
pug, and two guinea pigs.
I wrote this poem a few years ago, but I didn’t know how to
end it. I came back to it this past spring after visiting my
maternal grandmother who had moved from California to
Idaho into senior housing. I was thinking about her and the
poem on the long drive home to Oregon. I don’t think of
myself as a poet. Rather, a poem feels like something that
happens to you a couple times a year, like when you get a cold
or fever. And it happens when my mind is empty enough for a
poem to come in. Often this happens when I’m on long walks,
or in the case of this poem, sitting in the car and staring out
the window at desert and river for the nine hours it takes to
drive home from Idaho.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 5, Number 2
Copyright © 2010
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors