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  • My Grandmother's Mother, and: Climate Crisis, 2019
  • Denise Duhamel (bio)

My Grandmother's Mother

for Tyree Daye

I couldn't always breathe. Each timeI gave birth an adrenaline rush (thoughthat's not what I called it) stoppedmy wheezing and my fear—What ifI had an asthma attack as I pushed?What if I didn't have the strengthto deliver my babies? I slept ina chair so my lungs didn't have to workquite as hard. I had sex in that same chair,my husband beneath me. I was damagedbut he made me feel less so. I couldn't helpwith the animals because my throat closednear dander or feathers. He boiledeucalyptus my sister picked for him.I put my face toward the steam, a quiltover my head making a tent. I taughtmy daughters sewing, cooking,anything they could learn indoors.They knew I was temporary, thatI'd probably die young, which I did,my girls growing up unafflictedfor a full generation until I cameback—the granddaughter I'd never getto meet rushed to the hospital aftera neighborhood poodle licked her hand.She'd later become motherto my great-granddaughter the poetwho was born without a sound, [End Page 2] whom I watched over as clear tubesI could have never imagined in my timeon earth cleared her mucus and I taught her,in and out, how to breathe. [End Page 3]

Climate Crisis, 2019

The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.

—Sir Robert Swan

My Uncle Wil in his wicker rocking chairriding the waves. I'm watching himfrom an almost-submerged second story window.I thought this recurring dreamforetold his death. But after we buried himthe dream kept coming. EventuallyI bought a dream dictionarywhich said the flood meantI might have pent-up sexual desires.I loved my uncle in a chaste way so thisinterpretation made me feel shame—as did the second definition suggestingmy demands were overwhelming(flooding) others. Uncle Wil wasan environmentalist, the first personI knew to get a Vespa—in 1970—saying,if it was good enough for Gregory Peckin Roman Holiday, it was good enoughfor him. My uncle thought, even back then,we all should be using solar power. Nowthe Florida street upon which I live floodseven when the sun is shining. The dream'swindow was telling me I neededto go out into the world and experiencemore life, though it's risky to travel throughflooded streets not knowingwhat's under the surface. Not until todaydid I think to look up unclewhich the dictionary says [End Page 4] might point to powerlessnessconsidering the say uncle idiom.So maybe the dream foretold notmy uncle's death, but a "second story,"the impending death of the planet,corporate greed twisting all our armshoping we'll admit surrender and defeat.What nags me still is that rocking chair,defined as the wisdom of elders,as comfort and ease, taking us backto when we were sleeping babies,that deep safety, someone elsetaking care of everything. [End Page 5]

Denise Duhamel

denise duhamel's most recent book of poetry is Scald. She and Julie Marie Wade coauthored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose. She is a distinguished university professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.



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