This poem won second place in the Love Letters: What Matters Most contest, hosted by Honoring Your Wishes, a division of Iowa City Hospice. The essay prompt asked writers to reflect on themes of love, forgiveness and gratitude. Read the first-place and third-place essays.
Keep That Which Brings Joy
Flawless seashells tiny as fingernails —
prickly cockle and calico scallop
keyhole limpet and kitten’s paw —
we found while walking Florida beaches
the Christmas we shared a house
with our three kids and their friends.
She found the most exquisite shells —
delicate and understated. Gazing at the
steady succession of steel blue waves
she would get that faraway look — as calm
and peaceful as I would ever see her.
The yellow cat’s-eye marble, an
archaeological treasure discovered while
excavating the gnarled yew that had
taken over the northeast corner
of our yard. The swirling dance of yellow
trapped in glass was entwined in the roots,
left over from some game of marbles
like those she played on hard-packed
rings of dirt in childhood Santa Clara,
pulling out her cinch bag full of
colorful cat’s-eyes, puries, steelies,
and her best shooter. Knuckling down
in the dirt, she always played for keepsies.
Corks from the bottles of Tempranillo
or Rioja — the hearty Spanish reds
we grew to love, fit to uncork
on a Friday after a week of nursing
the elderly or teaching teenagers,
the wine in our glasses a ruby sunset.
Only the corks remain — bark harvested
from live oaks, carved and stamped
to serve as stoppers for these bottles of wine
whose cost was not dear — 10 bucks? —
a simple pleasure we took with cheese
and crackers on our bed in winter
or back porch in summer
as we talked through our lives.
David Duer lives in Iowa City and teaches English language arts at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, where he also serves as the adviser for the Washington Literary Press. His work has been published in Ascent, Exquisite Corpse, North American Review, Poetry and other literary journals.