Our nine-year-old foster son wouldn’t let us clip his nails,
and we didn’t force the issue, not knowing what memories
he marked into his palms when he clenched his fists.
Their length made simple tasks difficult, like separating
Lego pieces or cracking pistachios. Pistachio being a word
he and his siblings said surprisingly well, considering
they mispronounced each others names, having formed
a language of their own out of nothing but neglect. Their
speech as mysterious to us as how they were kept ignorant
of their own birthdays, middle names, or the curiosity of
wondering ours—content in what they didn’t know
of the alphabet, the spelling of their last name, the concepts
of calendars, time. The weeks it took for them to lean
back into a hug, or ask for help cracking pistachios, determined
to stay in their shells, palms outheld to collect fragments
shaped like splintered lifeboats abandoned on an unheld shore,
as if they still scavenged for a makeshift language to whisper with,
to wonder how far was safe to wade out from silence.
Seth Grindstaff teaches high school creative writing classes in northeast Tennessee. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Sheila-Na-Gig, The Dead Mule, Forbidden Peak Press, Edify Fiction, Transcend, among others, and has also been honored at the John Fox Jr Literary Festival in VA. He spends his time alongside his sun-loving wife and foster children.
See another poem by Seth in 7.4